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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Patience makes perfect for Willis

AKRON, Ohio – It took three weeks, two injuries and one virtue for freshman running back Darius Willis to jumpstart his Hoosiers career.

After a fumble on his first career carry and a banged-up shin and ankle to follow, it would be easy for any player to lose his patience and become frustrated.

Willis didn’t let himself become one of those players. 

“I was really anxious to get on the field last week,” Willis said. “This week, I had to make up for the first game and that fumble, so I just came out ready to play.”

In his team’s 38-21 victory at Akron, Willis grabbed team-highs with 66 yards and 15 carries and crossed the plane for his first collegiate score – something he said should be commonplace.

“I plan on scoring a lot more, so I just wanted to get that one out of the way,” Willis said.

Despite it being his first trip to the end zone, Willis acted like he had been there before, handing the ball to the official and surviving a barrage of hugs and handshakes.

No matter how many times he goes through that routine, don’t expect to see Willis bust a move. 

“I’ve never celebrated in my life,” Willis said. “I’ll just give it back to the ref.”

His addition to the scoreboard helped, but his play between the goal lines gave the team the boost they needed to win. 

IU coach Bill Lynch said the team needed a power-running attack to take down the Zips, and he found a thunder-and-boom tandem in Willis and Trea Burgess, who together pounded their way to a combined 128 yards and two touchdowns. 

The emergence of Willis, the highest-rated recruit of the 2007 class, was a long time coming for Hoosier nation. 

In the post-Anthony Thompson era, IU has been searching for a running back with the balance of power and speed he possesses.

However, in his first two weeks, Willis ran into more bad luck than good.

On opening night, Willis had his notorious fumble and was ultimately sidelined by a shin injury.

Last week, Willis was determined to shed his football debut from memory against Western Michigan, but he tweaked his ankle in practice and was ruled out on the Friday injury report. 

Against Akron, Willis was finally able to showcase the skill set everyone knew he had.
“Anytime he gets it going, you can’t take him out,” Burgess said. “He did a pretty good job and helped out our run game by banging it out.”

Despite his encouraging performance, it’s back to the drawing board before he and his team travel to Michigan Stadium to begin the Big Ten season. 

“There were a few times I cut it back a little earlier than I should,” Willis said. “I have to get better at reading it and staying on the right course a little bit longer.”

Although they have already surpassed Sports Illustrated’s expectations by winning more than two games, if the Hoosiers get the same production from their youngest running back, they could do what was considered the impossible and leave Ann Arbor, Mich., undefeated.

That alone would give Willis a reason to dance.

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