‘Terrorizing’ defensive tackle eager for opportunity to help Hurricanes

Photo credit: Josh White

The Hurricanes are poised to return to the ‘standard’ legendary teams of the past set in Coral Gables

Expectations for Miami are as high as ever after its defense finished 2017 as one of the best units in the nation.

However, the Canes lost a trio of defensive tackles including RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, who forwent their final year of collegiate eligibility for the NFL Draft, and Anthony Moten, who signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent.

After missing two of the past three seasons, redshirt senior Gerald Willis III is ready to anchor the defensive line.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time now and to be opening up against my hometown, I’m just ready,” Willis said.” I’m ready to ball and be with my brothers.”

Willis’ path to a starting role has been far from conventional.

The Louisiana native was a former five-star All-American, who played his freshman season in 2014 for the Florida Gators before being dismissed after multiple incidents in Gainesville, including two suspensions.

Willis sat out 2015 to comply with NCAA transfer regulations and was suspended for the Hurricanes 2016 opening game for a violation of team rules.

In August 2017, Willis took a leave of absence from the team for unspecified personal reasons. He’d eventually return to the practice squad for the Canes, but didn’t suit up in Miami’s first 10-win season in more than a decade.

Now, two years removed from a productive redshirt sophomore campaign – where he finished with 19 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks in nine games as a backup – Hurricanes coach Mark Richt has faith in Willis.

“I do love them all – I love all these guys – but [Gerald Willis] has a special place right now. I don’t know how to say it but he has got his life on track in a really positive way,” Richt said. “He’s one of the most intense competitors we’ve got. “Just like we talked about, he was on scout team all of last year. All last year. He just terrorized everybody every day. He could have moped and pouted because he was on the scout team for this or that reason, but he didn’t. He brought it every day. And now he can bring it for real, with his defensive teammates, and he’s just so excited. I’m just super proud of him.”

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle has transformed his body, becoming slimmer and quicker. He has cut down his body-fat percentage from 30 to 22, and added 15 pounds of muscle.

Miami’s 2017 Scout Team Player of the Year’s hard work caught the eye of his teammates.

“I love ‘G.’ I missed him, the whole year he was out. He’s a big addition to our team, our defense,” junior linebacker Michael Pinckney said. He’s everything you look for in a nose guard.”

“[Gerald] is an incredible player,” senior offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier said. “He’s fast, he’s strong…he can beat you with an arsenal of moves. If you beat him on his first move, he’s got a second move, a third move and a fourth move. It’s amazing to have ‘G’ back and I can’t wait to see what he does this year.

Willis is eagerly anticipating the Hurricanes season-opener Sept. 2 against LSU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“Life is a blessing,” Willis said. “I have friends and family members who are in jail, to this day. But now I am in a perfect spot. Like coach said, I play for Miami so I’m living right and I’m living good. It’s a blessing to be here.”