As the Flames prepare for a Commonwealth showdown with the Hokies this Saturday, Malik Willis has been a hot topic amongst the media. Most of the reason is due to Willis’ production. Entering the Flames’ seventh game of the season, Willis has been nothing short of phenomenal throwing for 1,122 yards and 9 touchdowns in the air, and rushing for another 495 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. Willis also leads the nation in scramble yards, which has been huge for the Flames offense in extending drives this season. Despite his stellar play and his huge potential impact on this game, Willis has also made headlines this week due to his former commitment to the Hokies.
Entering his senior year of high school, Willis was not heavily recruited, and committed to Virginia Tech on June 18th, 2016. The Hokies were his only major offer at that point. After a stellar senior season, Auburn liked what they saw and offered Willis on December 29th, 2016. After receiving an offer from the Tigers, Willis announced his decommittment from Virginia Tech and would then commit to Auburn all in the same week.
After spending two seasons at Auburn and losing the starting quarterback battle during spring practice in 2019, Willis decided he would transfer elsewhere, seeking more playing time. After receiving several offers, he landed at Liberty, swayed by new Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze to lead his RPO offense.
Willis got his appeal for immediate eligibility denied, so he was forced to sit out the 2019 season at Liberty as he sat and learned the Liberty offense. He was also the scout team quarterback all season, helping the Flames’ defense prepare for the upcoming opponent each and every week.
Now, Willis is the starting quarterback for the Liberty Flames who have opened the 2020 season at 6-0 and ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in school history.
Freeze doesn’t think Willis’ past with Virginia Tech will have any impact on his performance this week.
“I don’t think he will give one ounce of thought,” said Freeze. “I’m sure he’s thankful that he got an opportunity with Tech. I don’t think he will give an ounce of thought to that. I think he better really focus in on knowing how they are aligned defensively and how their rotations are going to be, is it 3-weak or 3-strong, or man-free. I think he will be consumed with that, I don’t think he will give one ounce of thought to the fact that they wanted him as a defensive back. I could see him being a great safety.”
When asked what led to his decommitment from Virginia Tech, Willis stated that the uncertainty of what position he would play was a factor.
“(Virginia Tech) was my first big time offer, and the coaching staff was really, really nice, really honest about what they thought about me,” Willis said this week. “They said that they wanted me to be at their program. They wanted me to play quarterback, receiver, or (defensive back). I was like, that’s a long way for me to go somewhere and not play where I wanted to play. Auburn came in and they had offered me at quarterback, it was an hour and a half away from my house, I was like I might have to do that. I appreciate everything their staff did for me. I hope there’s no hard feelings or anything.”
During this week’s press conference, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente stated nothing but praise for Willis.
“Malik Willis is phenomenal, running it and throwing it.,” Fuente said. “We had him in camp when he was in high school, he can play about four positions on either side of the ball, this kid is super talented.”
Fuente elaborated on recruiting Willis later in the press conference, claiming he would have let him play quarterback.
“We’ll work it out if he wants to play quarterback. We’ll let him play quarterback. His senior year it became apparent that he could play quarterback, and that’s what he needed to play. Obviously he signed with Auburn and transferred, but man is he playing well, happy for him.”
Despite decommitting, Willis still holds respect and appreciation for the Hokies’ head coach.
“I appreciate him,” Willis said of Fuente. “He was always honest. He was always genuine. He always told me the truth and that’s what I appreciate the most because there’s a lot of things that go down in the college football world in recruiting and I was just glad he was honest with me.”
The Hokies and Flames will kick off at noon Saturday, in Blacksburg, VA. The game will be played in Lane Stadium and broadcast on the ACC Network.