College Miami Hurricanes

Three Point Stance: Having Gerald Willis Back Makes Everyone Happy

With the trip to Arlington, Texas to face LSU in the season-opening game literally four weeks away, the Miami Hurricanes took to the practice field for its second practice of fall camp Sunday morning.

Expectations are high for UM, which was recently ranked in the top 10 of both the ESPN Preseason College Football Power Rankings (No. 9) and the Amway Preseason Coaches Poll (No. 8), with head coach Mark Richt heading into his third season leading his alma mater.

While Richt and most of his players were quick to dismiss any potential puffing up surrounding the early rankings, there are very tangible reasons why the media voted Miami to repeat as ACC Coastal division champions – one being the potential for the Hurricanes to have a dominant defense in 2018.

If UM’s defense lives up to – or perhaps even exceeds – expectations this coming season, a chunk of it will be because of defensive tackle Gerald Willis.

Gerald Willis is back and everyone is happy about it.

Willis story is a well-chronicled one.

The former five-star preps prospect out of Louisiana, started his career at the University of Florida and was dismissed from the program after one season; came to Miami; sat out a year (2015); played sparingly in 2016 but had some off-the-field issues and a knee injury; then he took a leave of absence from the team at the start of the 2017 season. He did come back to the team in 2017 but didn’t participate in any games, only practicing with as a part of the team’s practice squad.

Throughout the 2017 season, Richt commended Willis for his work and touted how good he looked in practices – once calling him a “hard to block” and a “terror”.

He echoed those sentiments again Sunday after practice.

“I do love them all – I love all these guys – but [Gerald Willis] has a special place right now. I don’t know how to say it, but he has got his life on track in a really positive way,” Richt said.

“He’s one of the most intense competitors we’ve got. Just like we talked about, he was on scout team all of last year. All last year. He just terrorized everybody every day. He could have moped and pouted because he was on the scout team for this or that reason, but he didn’t. He brought it every day. And now he can bring it for real, with his defensive teammates, and he’s just so excited. I’m just super proud of him.”

Back and active, the Hurricanes are hoping that Willis’ change will result in him living up to his extremely high potential and becoming the much-needed No. 1 defensive tackle the team desperately needs heading into the 2018 season.

Willis, who also spoke Sunday after practice, said he’s learned a lot on his college football journey.

“It’s just been a blessing. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time now and then to be opening up against my hometown, I’m just ready. I’m ready to ball and play with my brothers,” Willis said.

“I have friends, family members that are in jail, to this day. I’m in a perfect spot. Like coach said, I play for Miami. You’re living right, you’re living good. It’s just a blessing to be here.”

One of the things that have facilitated Willis earning praise from coaches is his “body of work” – meaning the effort he put into and changing his body and getting into better shape.

“I think like two years ago, my body fat percentage was like 30. I’m like at 20, 22. It’s been a big improvement. Kyle’s really helped me out with that.”

As good as Willis can lead the Hurricanes defense with his play, his journey should serve as a cautionary tale for his younger teammates.

“Man, just don’t give up and don’t take it for granted. I almost took it for granted. Ball is my life. It’s my ticket, you know? I told them, just keep grinding. Don’t let the coaches or nobody get down on you. Just keep going.

Why was everyone talking about Malik Rosier today?

One of the main sources of contention among UM fans remains the play of redshirt senior Malik Rosier.

One could argue that Rosier is the most – or at least one of the most – maligned starting quarterbacks in all of college football.

Despite his leading Miami to 10 wins this past season – including some late-game heroics in big moments, despite his setting a new school record for total touchdowns accounted for in 2017, despite the fact that he played the final three games of the season with an injured shoulder, and despite the fact the Richt has said that Rosier will be “QB1” come September 5 – fans call for job on a daily basis.

And it doesn’t take much to rile them up either.

A clip from Sunday’s media viewing period, which Sunday was a 25-minute window of time where media was allowed to shoot video and take photos of the Canes’ practice.

It’s a simple rollout drill with quarterbacks throwing to tight ends. Rosier is the first quarterback to throw and his throw is off target and ends up hitting the dirt.

Granted, it wasn’t the best throw the redshirt senior could’ve made.

However, it was one rep, in one drill, in one practice, in August.

There’s no need for such a negative reaction from fans.

The offensive line has a No. 1 group, now it’s about building continuity.

While everyone continues to focus on the quarterback position, where more attention needs to be paid is who will be doing the blocking for whoever is in the pocket.

The true lifeline of any football team is its offensive line. It doesn’t matter if the quarterback has the best arm that God ever handed out, if he doesn’t have time to throw and is constantly being knocked on his backside, he’s not going to look very good.

Miami’s offensive line was a bit in flux during the spring. Coaches were moving players around in different positions, trying to find the right mix of five.

Senior center Tyler Gauthier said Sunday that the No. 1 group has been solidified and has been working together consistently up to this point.

From left tackle to right tackle, the No. 1 group has been: Tyree St. Louis, Jahair Jones, Gauthier, Hayden Mahoney and Navaughn Donaldson.

The coaches seem settled and comfortable moving St. Louis from right tackle, where played all of this past season, to left tackle and kicking Donaldson out from right guard to right tackle.

Coaches spoke highly of Jones and Mahoney during the spring and both two of the older linemen in the O-Line room – being a redshirt senior and redshirt junior respectively.

The key will be building continuity between those five guys.

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

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