Willis taking the lead with IU linebackers #iufb

Dameon Willis Jr. has one simple goal for the 2018 Indiana University football season.

Finish what he started.

Willis, a fifth-year senior linebacker, made his decision to return to the Hoosiers a month ago despite having gone through Senior Day festivities last fall.

“(It was) just simply after graduation, finishing one goal and having the opportunity to settle in and really just focus on the next goal,” Willis said Tuesday of his decision. “Not leaving having any regrets, really just continuing to understand that this culture that started back in ’14. Guys such as Tegray (Scales), (Chris Covington), we had a goal of changing the culture here, and this is the turning year. I want to be part of that.”

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Cleveland native graduated from IU on May 5 and one week later, made a phone call to coach Tom Allen, who welcomed him back with open arms.

“I think (having him back) is huge,” Allen said two weeks ago at Huber Winery. “He was our most experienced linebacker coming back, and we had some good heart to hearts. I’m really excited about getting him back with us. … I think he’s going to be a big part of our future.”

One part will be what Willis, who made his first career start in the Foster Farms Bowl two years ago and started twice more in 2017, does on the field. The other part of equal, if not greater, importance is what he does for the Hoosiers off the field.

“You’re as strong as your weakest link,” Willis said. “For freshmen, young guys, it’s important that leading those guys is the main factor. It’s the most important thing. As leader of the group, it’s my job to make sure everyone is ready. If it’s not, then I’ll take that.

“… I think with a sense of leadership you learn that through your own group. I picked it up from Marcus Oliver, T.J. Simmons, those guys. We all kind of came up together.”

In some ways, perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder for Willis, who practically bubbled with excitement as he spoke on Tuesday.

“(I’m) approaching things different — a whole lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “You’ve got to have enthusiasm with this group. We’re young, but we have a lot of energy. Showing those guys that anything is easier with a little bit of enthusiasm, definitely (having) enthusiasm day in and day out. I’m yelling all day, shouting stuff. They probably look at me as a wild man, but they’ll see the finished product at the end.”

If even a fraction of Willis’ enthusiasm rubs off on the youthful Indiana linebacking corps, the Hoosiers may not have as much difficulty replacing Scales and Covington as it would appear.

But Willis, for one, knows that time is short and what must be done must be done sooner than later.

“We’re very young, but we’re very eager,” he said. “Mike McGinnis, Thomas Allen, Reakwon Jones, Mo Burnam — plenty of guys that are going to contribute and as a guy that’s going to play the bridge to help those guys with how we play linebacker here, it’s important for me to bring those guys along with urgency.”

Perhaps that’s just one reason why Willis has hardly missed a beat physically after the spring semester away. Another is his diet and yet another the new strength and conditioning program of David Ballou and Dr. Matt Rhea.

“You never really lose (the physical part),” Willis said. “You don’t have the drive to become a couch potato. Changing my diet was a big thing. Cutting out all beef, just chicken and fish, rolling that way. Getting more energized and everything, I haven’t missed a beat really.

“Coach Ballou and his staff, Coach Rhea, these guys are legit. I love it. It’s hard work, but it’s good work.”

Willis plans on that work paying off the way he and his now departed teammates planned back in 2014.

“Those guys, they let me know (changing the culture)’s a goal we set from the beginning, and we have to carry it out by any means,” he said.

2 comments

  1. Getting Willis back at LB is big based on the inexperience and youth at that position. I hope he can step his game up and help the younger guys figure out how to prepare and play in the B1G. Willis will improve the depth at LB and add to the rotation keeping guys fresh during the game. He should also be another player for special teams fiving them an experienced player.

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