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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Willis remains secondary anchor despite position change

Senior+Priest+Willis+moved+from+cornerback+to+nickel+due+to+senior+Donovan+Wilsons+foot+injury.
Photo by Photo by Cristian Aguirre

Senior Priest Willis moved from cornerback to nickel due to senior Donovan Wilson’s foot injury.

Senior Priest Willis is used to having high expectations.
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Willis started his collegiate career at UCLA, where he saw action in nine games his freshman year, recording nine tackles as a special teams player and secondary reserve.
Willis progressed in his sophomore year, getting action in the secondary and on special teams, totaling 22 tackles on the season. After that season though, Willis announced he was going to transfer. There was much speculation that Willis would be transferring to Texas A&M, since the defensive back coach at A&M had aggressively recruited him coming out of high school, and Willis did just that, with no regrets.
“Transferring to A&M is one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made,” Willis said. “It’s really a great coaching staff, care so much about the players. I really could not have made a better decision, the transition has been great.”
After sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Willis assumed a huge role in the A&M secondary, at the left cornerback position. In the Aggies first game of the 2016 season against UCLA, Willis caught his first interception as an Aggie, ironically, against his former team. Willis also had 33 tackles and eight passes broken up on the season. Although he had success in those seven games, Willis’ season was limited due to lingering injuries.
Willis started this season playing cornerback, but moved to nickel – the fifth defensive back – after senior safety Donovan Wilson suffered a season-ending injury to his foot in the season-opener against UCLA.
Despite his devastating injury, Wilson has helped Willis make the transition.
“Donovan is like my brother, he’s always making sure I’m on point. He’s giving me all the pointers from when he was there,” Willis said.  
Willis started his first game at nickel last Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette, a game that turned out to be a tale of two halves in terms of defensive play. The Aggies defense looked shaky in the first half, however, came out in the second half looking like a whole new team.
“We went into the locker room at halftime and the score was 0-0. If they have a goose-egg then they can’t win, that was the mentality and we went out there and we played like A&M football in the second half,” Willis said.
Being one of two seniors in the secondary, Willis has stepped into a leadership role, mentoring the defensive backs in an Aggie secondary that is flooded with youth.
“You always want to be a great leader for the young guys and set an example,” Willis said. “I feel like that’s a big key for us, to step up and let the young guys know what the culture is.”
Despite their lack of experience, Willis said he feels like the young guys in the secondary play with the confidence of veterans.
“The secondary has been great, we’ve got some young guys in there, Myles Jones and Debione Renfro are stepping up for us. The secondary’s moving along, they’re not so much in the young mentality, they’re playing at the veteran level,” Willis said.
The Aggie secondary is going to need to be exceptionally solid this Saturday, as Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen team threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns against A&M last season.
“[Austin Allen] is poised, he acts like he’s been there, he’s a good quarterback, but we’re focused on our gameplan and what we’re going to bring,” Willis said.
Saturday’s game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington is listed as a neutral site game, however, Willis said he is confident the Aggies will have the advantage in terms of fan support.
“Man, the fanbase at A&M is crazy, even the farthest away games feel like home games, when you see the crowd there,” Willis said.
Willis will look to feed off of the energy in the stadium provided by the crowd as they plan to be the aggressor early on in the game.
“The game plan we got, we’re going to get on them early,” said Willis.

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