“What he’s done for the NFL, as far as who he is and his legacy – he’s cemented in the NFL forever,” Willis said. “Coming from a city like ours, it’s huge. We grew up on similar sides of town.”
Willis grew up one of 10 kids on the south side of Jackson. He was surrounded by influences – both good and bad.
“There were a lot of good, positive things. A lot of negative things. It’s a toughness type of environment,” he said.
For fun, he played football in the streets with his brother.
“When we were younger, we used to play street tackle football on the pavement in the neighborhood,” he said. “It started out as two-man touch, but you know how that goes. It transitioned into full-on tackle.”
It toughened him up for life – on and off the football field.
“The lifestyle and the way some people grow up is parallel to the toughness and adversity you face in football. You kind of get used to just chugging on through,” he said. “I was a running back in high school and coming into college learning the game from the defensive side, it’s just the ultimate team sport. I think that’s something that was drilled into me since I was younger.”
Unlike some, Willis was fortunate to grow up with a team of support – his family, his community, and role models all around him.