Ryan Willis has some big shoes to fill.
After transferring to Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, KS, the 2015 quarterback prospect will try and live up to the standard of success set by Max Shortell and Montell Cozart. Both signed with Division 1 programs, and both led their respective squads to the State Championship Game, with Shortell winning it in 2009.
Willis says his decision wasn’t about taking over one of the top offenses in The Sunflower State, or the chance to throw to McKinley Johnson, an Otis Taylor Award finalist in 2012.
Put it on faith.
“I went to a Catholic grade school, from kindergarten through eighth grade,” Willis said. “When I went to a public school, I just didn’t feel like at home. So I went back to the Catholic schools.”
“I picked Miege because it has great academics and a good sense of community. I felt like it was a great fit for me.”
At 6-foot-4, 195-pounds, Willis has the frame and strong arm to be successful leading the Stag offense. He also brings a confidence to the position that belies his lack of experience.
“I want the ball in my hands when the game is one the line,” he said, eyes wide. “I love the pregame jitters, and the final drive. I don’t get distracted when things get chaotic. I can make every throw you ask me to make, and I will leave everything out on the field.”
After picking up his first offer last week from Kansas State, Willis has become an intriguing storyline for the 2013 season. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound passer is now the only player in the Kansas City area with more scholarships than varsity starts.
“The pressure is on,” he said with a smile. “I have a lot to prove to everyone, especially my team. I can’t have an individual agenda, those lose games. First, I need to worry about my team’s success before I worry about the next step in my career.”
Head Coach Jon Holmes enters his second year leading the Stags program, having coached both Shortell and Cozart. Though his new starter has yet to take the field in a regular season game, Willis has impressed in summer camps at Kansas and K-State, as well as in 7-on-7.
“There is no throw he thinks he can’t make,” Holmes said of Willis. “He has a very strong arm, and can fit the ball in a tight window. He has great touch on his deep ball, great pocket awareness.”
“Ryan works very hard on the little things like footwork and avoiding blitzes. You can tell he is comfortable playing the position and has played it his whole life. He wants to be great.”
Willis is quick to credit Justin Hoover for helping him develop his skills despite the lack of varsity game action. Regarded as one of the top quarterback coaches in the region, Hoover was picked by Trent Dilfer to coach in the Elite 11 Finals this week in Eugene, OR.
“He knows what it takes to get to the next level,” Willis said of Hoover. “Every day, he pushes me harder and harder. I have never seen someone who has a passion for football like he does. He’s turned into a role model for me.”
Willis knows the expectations for him have risen since picking up his first offer. Despite the added attention, he is staying focused on the main goal as he enters his first year as a starter.
“All I want to do this season is win games and have a chance to play for the State Championship. It’s about my team during the season. I’ll worry about recruiting in the off-season.”