On Monday, Liberty head football coach Hugh Freeze officially named his starting quarterback for week one at Western Kentucky, as he will turn to Malik Willis.
“Malik will get the start on Saturday,” Freeze said. “We feel very good about he and Chris (Ferguson), and even (Johnathan Bennett). They both have continued to improve, just felt like Malik would, maybe, give us a little extra something, when plays don’t quite go the way we want, with his legs.”
Willis, who transferred to Liberty from Auburn a year ago, battled with Maine grad transfer Chris Ferguson throughout training camp, in a battle that was described as back and forth throughout camp. Redshirt-freshman Johnathan Bennett also made a push for the job.
“All of our quarterbacks were hovering around the same level of execution most of camp, a couple of percentage points difference between all three of them,” Liberty QB coach Kent Austin said. “Johnathan’s execution, because he’s been in the offense – Malik was with the scout team last year – he’s been in the offense longer, probably had a little bit total percentage decision making was a little higher, but what happened, Malik really took a step forward in the last three days. He’s been in the 90 percentile (in decision making and physical execution) really for the last week. He also brings the ability to make big plays with his feet, his athleticism. He’s a dangerous player. I think Malik’s understanding of the offense, which he demonstrated here recently, combined with his big play ability, probably separated the decision for Coach (Freeze).”
Willis will be the first quarterback not named Buckshot Calvert to make a start for the Flames in 43 games. Calvert finished his career as the program leader in all major passing categories.
A 3-star dual-threat prospect out of high school, Willis was the Auburn’s backup QB during his true freshman and sophomore seasons. The 6’1”, 195 pound native of Roswell High School and Atlanta, Georgia, Willis played in 15 games at Auburn, throwing for 69 yards and 1 touchdown while also rushing for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns. Willis saw playing time against the Flames in Auburn’s win over Liberty in 2018, even rushing for a 16-yard score.
He transferred to Liberty during the summer of 2019 after losing the competition to replace Jarrett Stidham as Auburn’s starting quarterback. He didn’t start playing quarterback until his senior season in high school, a season where he passed for 2,562 yards, rushed for 1,033 yards, and had 37 total touchdowns while leading Roswell to a Class 7A state runner-up finish.
Willis originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school before switching to Auburn. He was ranked by ESPN as the 59th best athlete nationally in the 2017 signing class.
Liberty begins the 2020 season this Saturday, September 19 at Western Kentucky in a game that will be televised on ESPNU with a Noon Eastern kickoff.