Justin Willis: Student, Coach, or Both?

Willis representing what he does on a regular basis. Source: Daniel Martinez

To be able to go from competing from the high school level to the collegiate level is amazing. However, going from a student of the game to the teacher is even more of a rarity. Justin Willis is currently in the process of doing exactly that. As a senior, Willis finished his final collegiate football season here for Greenville football back in the fall of 2018. He is now working his way to becoming a coach in the 2019 season!

Willis #6 before the coin toss. Source: Dana Fitch

Willis is from Lindale, Texas and graduated from Lindale High School. His love and passion for the game roots back to his high school days. Willis expressed how important and how much coaching his former team and teammates mean to him. He just came off his final season where he played with some of his best and closest friends and now he must transition to coaching them. Willis stated, “It’s honestly a pretty weird feeling, but I’m looking forward to it.”

His four years as a Panther were life changing because he learned a lot both inside and out of the classroom. Willis said the EMAP program taught him a ton of things – the main thing being patience. He mentioned that he had different situations where he was injured, didn’t play as much as he wanted to, or things just didn’t go the way he had initially wanted. However, through the coaches and the rest of the program, he was able to learn how to deal with those situations and build his patience.

Willis during a special teams play. Source: Dana Fitch

Willis stated that his first start for the Panthers was an incredible experience. He said that it was always a dream to play with players like Mark Barigye and Nicholas Morrow. When asked how was it playing with former GU alumni, now NFL Oakland Raider linebacker Nicholas Morrow, he had great things to say. Willis learned a lot from Morrow because he had a deep knowledge for the game of football which allowed Willis to adapt to some of Morrow’s football IQ.

Willis’ favorite memory as a Panther was finally beating the University of Northwestern for the first time during his junior season. The victory was so special because he had just come back from battling an injury and that was his first start since. Being able to beat Northwestern at home and getting the first win of the season is something he will never forget.

Willis #9 during a play in the victory against Northwestern his Junior season. Source: Dana Fitch

The biggest question for Willis is how it feels going from player to coach. He explained that the transition is very weird but at the same time it doesn’t really bother him. The reason for that is because he is close to a lot of players on the team. It’s strange only because he was just their teammate and now he’s coaching them after barely finishing his final season a couple of months ago. It also doesn’t bother Willis because his dream has always been to be a coach. He wants to see them succeed and it is very excited to see them excel from a coaches standpoint.

As a player, Willis had a leadership role but he was never really a vocal leader. He always made sure to lead by example by doing the right things on and off the field. Although Willis wasn’t much of a vocal leader, he made sure that whenever something had to be addressed or something had to be said, he would always speak up.

Willis #6 celebrating during the Panthers’ win over Westminster. Source: Dana Fitch

Willis’ plan is to stay at GU for a year or two as an assistant coach while working on his master’s degree. However, if he gets a chance to go back home to Texas, or get a better position at another school, he would be honored.

We look forward to seeing Coach Willis make an impact on the GU football program as a coach. As a player, he has paved the way by grooming his other teammates into becoming future leaders. With that being said, he should be doing the same and even more as a coach!

Media by Daniel Martinez.


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