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Injured football player appears in pro wrestling match


Matt Callahan



While the IU football team played North Texas, losing 24-21, injured running back Darius Willis competed in a different arena back in Bloomington when he helped professional wrestler PJB take down his opponent with a flying shoulder tackle.

Willis said he had long wanted to be around pro wrestling.

“I’ve just always wanted to be around it, wanted to come watch it,” Willis said Saturday after the match. “It was just something I wanted. I always watched wrestling and just wanted to go out and give it a try and see how it is.”

Even though PJB said Willis wasn’t paid for the event, it’s unknown if the IU football player cleared his appearance with anyone in the IU Athletics Department.

During an Infinity Pro Wrestling event at the National Guard Armory beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, the announcer told the crowd an IU football player was in the house.

“The former star running back, ladies and gentleman, Darius Willis,” the announcer said to cheers. Two young boys jumped out of their chairs with their hands raised in victory.

Willis stood in a gray IU football cutoff shirt — a white No. 28, his roster number, ironed onto the back. He joined the announcer in the ring when professional wrestler Austin Manix, in a black pair of tights with knee-high black boots, entered the ring.

Manix provoked Willis by calling the star running back out for not playing due to an aggravated knee injury.

“I’ve been wrestling two months with a torn ligament in my left knee because that’s what real men do,” Manix said. “You, Darius, you’re just a little bitch.”

Willis just stared into Manix’s eyes. Manix kicked Willis, and he fell to the mat. Boos filled the air until PJB ran to the mat and helped Willis out of the ring. Willis slung his left arm around PJB’s neck.

Later in the evening, Austin Manix and PJB took the ring for their bout.
Manix was announced first, walking out to more boos.

But when PJB walked through the blue and red curtains, signifying fire and ice, he was followed by Willis.

The crowd began to cheer.

Willis followed the professional wrestler around the ring giving high fives to members of the audience.

PJB and Manix began their match, and Willis stood in one of the corners.

The IU running back slammed his open hand on the mat to cheer on PJB, a friend of his since a few years ago.

He lifted his arms to raise the crowd noise when PJB looked to be defeating Manix.
But when PJB and the referee were both taken down, Manix peered above them with his back to the corner that Willis stood near.

That’s when Willis hoisted himself in the ring. As he stood up, he tore off his gray cutoff and flung it to his right and into the first row seats of the crowd.

Manix turned around. Willis, with both feet firmly planted, launched himself toward Manix, catching him right below the neck and taking him to the mat with a flying shoulder tackle.

“It meant a lot to me that he was there,” PJB said. “He’s a real good friend. One of the reasons we became friends was because we both liked pro wrestling and have a passion for it. For him to be in the ring, it was like it came full circle.”

Cheers exploded. Willis clenched his fists as he flexed his muscles and screamed.

Manix and PJB both lifted themselves to their feet. Manix stumbled around and PJB picked him up between the legs before dropping him to the ring with his finishing move — ‘All She Wrote.’

The referee raised his right hand and dropped it to the mat to start the final count.

One. Two. Three.

The crowd rose to its feet.

Willis has seen a crowd on its feet before. Although he hasn’t played a minute in his junior season, Willis was one of the main running backs on the 2010 team.

The IDS was told last week from a source close to the situation that Willis would not be returning this season due to a nagging injury. IU Coach Kevin Wilson has not completely ruled out the 2011 season for Willis and said he doesn’t know if his running back is out for the season.

Willis isn’t the only injured player who was left back in Bloomington while the team was in Denton, Texas. Senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher also did not take the away trip due to an undisclosed injury.

Since Willis was always playing in Saturday games, he was never able to make it to any of PJB’s matches. He settled for watching the post-match videos on YouTube.
“I just wanted to get out of the house and go watch it,” Willis said. “Otherwise, I’d be inside playing video games all night.”

Although he missed the start of the game against the Mean Green, Willis said he watched the end of the “disappointing” loss. He said he used the professional wrestling match as a way to cope with not being in Denton.

“Football never dies,” Willis said. “I think about it 24/7.”

As for a future in the professional wrestling ring, Willis said he wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know,” Willis said. “We’ll see what happens in the future.”

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