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Recruiting snub still motivates Patrick Willis

Patrick Willis AP

San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis has been selected to the Pro Bowl every season he’s been in the NFL, but he still finds motivation in a time when he was told he wasn’t good enough.

Willis grew up in Tennessee and wanted to play his college football for the Volunteers, and he said on Monday that the memory of being told Tennessee didn’t want him is still fresh.

“I was a Vols fan growing up,” Willis said. “That was like America’s Team. I wanted to go there so bad. After every game my dad and I would get in the car and drive five hours to go to Knoxville to watch them play on an unofficial visit. This was on our gas money and our time. I just wanted to show them how bad I wanted to be there. I can’t forget being there and you have all these other big-time recruits there and they are shaking their hands and the coaches are talking to them. The coaches never shook my hand. They never talked to me. One day I just got tired of doing that. My senior year, I remember going up and saying, ‘Coach I see all of the other guys getting love. I really want to come here. I’m interested in coming here. Do you have something for me? Maybe a scholarship offer? Maybe something just saying you want me?’ But I didn’t get that. I got, ‘Well you’re having a hard time. We’re recruiting two other linebackers, Ernie Sims and Daniel Brooks. Those are the two guys we want.'”

Sims ended up at Florida State and was a good linebacker in college, but not as good as Willis — and he’s been nowhere near as good as Willis in the NFL. Brooks went to Tennessee but got kicked off the team and never played in the NFL. Willis still remembers being told those two players were better than him.

“I never forget looking at him and being like he basically said, ‘We’re not really interested, we don’t want you,'” Willis said. “I’ll never forget getting in the car with my foster dad and we’re riding home and I cried. I cried, not because I was sad, but more so because I knew how badly I wanted to be a Tennessee Vol. I knew what type of player I could be.”

Willis proved what kind of player he could be at Ole Miss, where he was a two-time All-American and the winner of the Butkus Award for college football’s best linebacker before the 49ers took him with the 11th pick in the 2007 NFL draft. Now Willis is getting ready to show those Tennessee coaches how wrong they were on football’s biggest stage.

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31 Responses to “Recruiting snub still motivates Patrick Willis”
  1. tbpdog says: Jan 28, 2013 10:25 AM

    Pretty sure after an all-american college career where they got to face him every year, 5 pro bowls and generally being considered the best LB in Pro Football that the Vol coaches figured that out a while ago.

    That would be if any of the Vol coaches were still there, they have cleaned house there three times since he left Ol Miss.

  2. tharaidergang says: Jan 28, 2013 10:29 AM

    What an inspirational and heartwarming story. Shows where hard work and determination can get you. In the end, he came out on top! Anyways, Willis is a beast, and it has been a pleasure watching him dominate and terrorize opposing offenses. And I’m a Raider fan btw ;)

  3. sjoyner59 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:31 AM

    If I was one one those coaches I would feel like a ass,this guy is a great player

  4. mazblast says: Jan 28, 2013 10:33 AM

    I think he’s made his point.

  5. cags777 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:36 AM

    Vols coaches? It’s one thing to name the institution. But it’s another thing to name the names, Mr. Willis, which is what I would have done had I been in your shoes.

  6. jason1214 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:37 AM

    Kinda like Glen Mason telling J. Laurenitus he wouldnt break the Gopher LB group

  7. 989lions says: Jan 28, 2013 10:37 AM

    I am a huge Pat Willis fan this guy is an absolute beast. I’m sure the coaching staff at the time felt beyond stupid for not even giving him a shot at Tenn. if there was only a way that a guy like Willis could win his ring on Sunday but Jim H not get his I would be elated.

  8. ajw21 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:44 AM

    This happens all the time. I think the same amount of 3 & 5 star players in hs get drafted in the 1st round. Also happens in the draft. Example Tom Brady. The only reason its news is because he is in the Super Bowl. Nice story but not uncommon.

  9. jpb12 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:46 AM

    There’s a reason those coaches aren’t at Tennessee anymore

  10. dadawg77 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:47 AM

    Would he have been this good if he went to Tenn. Chips on shoulders trend to be great motivators

  11. citizenstrange says: Jan 28, 2013 10:48 AM

    Into each life a little rain must fall.

  12. steelerdynasty2010 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:49 AM

    always nice to get a look inside and see what keeps lots of these guys motivated. but maybe he should consider the possibility that at that point those guys were just better than him and he’s developed into a great player.

  13. questforthesixthnotthelast2013 says: Jan 28, 2013 10:52 AM

    Sure as hell beats, “hey guys, at the end of the season, (crying) (sobbing), im gonna retire whether we win or lose” ala Ray lewis.
    sorry purple birds, play hard, they like when you struggle, makes em choke you harder!!
    love your game Pat, show the world dude!!

  14. jssgriffi says: Jan 28, 2013 10:53 AM

    Go get’em WILL

  15. overweightman says: Jan 28, 2013 10:56 AM

    My favorite college didn’t recruit me either. 10 years later it still motivates me while I count these beans…

  16. fuglyflorio says: Jan 28, 2013 11:09 AM

    Luckily he has something to motivate himself with. The Superbowl just isn’t enough. He’d have never played hard if that was it alone.

  17. saint4life says: Jan 28, 2013 11:27 AM

    yeah Patrick, you’re the only good player to ever get snubbed by the team you wanted to play for…..yawn….. If it helped you in the long run maybe you should call the coach and tell him thanks though.
    I know it sounds stupid but the song “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks comes to mind. You can pray and ask for things but sometimes it the things you dont ask for that are truly the answered prayer granted.

    Now you can call me a pansie!

  18. questforthesixthnotthelast2013 says: Jan 28, 2013 11:37 AM

    Yeah, nothing motivates you more, like being involved in a double homicide, having to clear your name and keep the media from throwing you under the bus!!
    id take Patrick’s approach anyday though.

  19. descendency says: Jan 28, 2013 11:49 AM

    When asked why Peyton Manning should be the #1 pick, he responded “Because if you don’t take me, I’ll make you regret it for the next 15 years.”

    It sounds like Patrick Willis is doing the same.

  20. gravedigger93 says: Jan 28, 2013 11:49 AM

    Fulmer went for the big name, flashy athletes rather than the hard working, great attitude players. That’s reflected in the number of arrests and idiots that he had during his time (see Travis Henry, Leonard Little, etc.).

    The funny thing is, Randall Cobb has almost the EXACT same story as Willis. Cobb is from Alcoa which is all of 45 minutes from UT campus and he badly wanted to go to UT. Fulmer never seemed to want local guys and he basically shrugged Cobb off. So Cobb went to Kentucky and although Kentucky never won much, the only reason they were competitive is because Cobb did everything for them. He was a 2nd round pick and is churning out highlight reels in Green Bay.

    Fulmer may have had a national championship under his watch, but he was a dolt most of the time.

  21. poridge1214 says: Jan 28, 2013 11:51 AM

    As a 49ers fan I find this sort of hindsight very silly. We’re talking about a 17 year old Patrick Willis being evaluated by a college coaching staff, not the NFL all-pro. Some guys come out of high school as absolute beasts, and some guys grow into beasts during their college years. Then some still don’t come into their own until the NFL (Tom Brady – who shared time at QB in college). College coaches don’t care what you’ll be like in the NFL, they want guys who will be good on their teams, in their particular systems. Some times they hit and sometimes they miss on players they pick or pass on. This is a miss, but in the end, would Pat Willis have taken Tennessee to the BCS Championship? Probably not, so it’s not as big a deal in the end. GO NINERS!

  22. rbanks51 says: Jan 28, 2013 11:59 AM

    Ole Miss was the only SEC school that offered him a scholarship…Ernie Sims was actually drafted higher than Willis.

    Now obviously Tennessee made a big mistake…but no one else really saw this coming from him either. I’m sure even Ole Miss thought they were just getting another average 3 star guy.

  23. pacific123ocean says: Jan 28, 2013 12:04 PM

    It is time to get over it. You are not the first, nor the last, to get snubbed in recruiting…it happens all the time.

  24. modellforprez says: Jan 28, 2013 12:16 PM

    how dare they patty. anyway whatchu talking bout Willis. you are not getting any where near Joseph the Flacco on Sunday. Ray rizzy is gonna truck you too. Ravens 34 9ers 27.

  25. stevebozeman says: Jan 28, 2013 12:21 PM

    As an Ole Miss fan I am glad they didn’t want you Patrick. You are the best. We will never forget you in Oxford.

  26. greenejoemean says: Jan 28, 2013 12:51 PM

    I love his play on the field,but tennessee as americas team, i have to laugh.

  27. bigghugg says: Jan 28, 2013 12:51 PM

    In fairness to the Tennessee Coaching staff, he may not have been as good a player at that time and who knows, maybe their snub is the reason he is the player he is today, he obviously is still using it as motivation long after he has proven himself. He may owe the Vols coaching staff at that time a word of thanks.

  28. 13datsyuk13 says: Jan 28, 2013 12:53 PM

    I didn’t know Mack Brown coached at Tennessee. Hey Mack, lets let another Heisman winner get away!

  29. fightingirish48 says: Jan 28, 2013 12:57 PM

    Ernie Sims ended up going to Florida State.

  30. theuglitruth says: Jan 28, 2013 1:02 PM

    The Vols picked Lane Kiffin as head coach once…that tells you what kind of decision making coming out of that place!

  31. mj1818 says: Jan 28, 2013 2:15 PM

    I love these types of stories.

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