Recruiting was the easy part for Derrick Willies.
He committed to the Hawkeyes four days after a daylong visit to Iowa City in April. The 6-4, 205-pounder had scholarship offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Illinois State.
“(Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz) told me they want me and they need me,” Willies told QC Online.”They made me feel right at home. They all talked to me for hours. They welcomed me with open arms.”
At Burlington as a junior, Willies caught 57 passes for 934 yards and seven TDs. He transferred Rock Island High School in January and 56 catches for 877 yards and 10 TDs last season.
Willies participated in track at Rock Island last spring. He told HawkeyeReport.com he runs a 4.4-second in the 40-yard dash and currently runs the 110-meter high hurdles and 300 low hurdles, along with the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 and the first leg of the 4 x 400.
Willies has had a journey in his young life. He grew up in California. He lived for three years in Burlington. Before Burlington, he lived with his mom in Las Vegas. He lived with his aunt in Burlington and led the Mississippi Athletic Conference in receiving as a junior. A family fallout sent him to Rock Island.
According to the Quad City Times, his mom made Rock Island, Ill., native Nick Gieselman his legal guardian so he could compete in sports. A week after Willies moved in, Gieselman and his fiancée, Cassie Davis, had a baby boy.
“I feel like I’m a part of their family,” Willies told the Quad City Times. “They’ve really made me feel welcome, and they help me with everything I need.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz picked up on the vibe during his home visit.
"I had an image ofhim before I met him, boy this guy has been here and here," Ferentz said, "and I'll never forget the first time he came to our offices, how impressed all of us were with him.
"To watch him interact with Nick and Cassie and his family, it's very impressive. He's a really humble young guy. He's got a great attitude. He came to camp after that. We had already made our minds up, but he came to camp and did a nice job there, too, and had a good demeanor out there on the field.
"And ourhome visit, you know, I thought maybe he was trying to fake me out but he was looking at some of his class work stuff during the visit. That's how exciting our talks are, when we talk to these guys, he turned out a nice grade point average this last semester. Great attitude, tremendous young guy. I think he's really appreciative of the opportunities he's been presented with and I think what's in front of him."
The recruiting really was the easy part.
"It was great to get the offer from Iowa," Willies told HawkeyeReport.com. "I talked to all of the coaches and they made me feel very welcome and wanted there. I talked to the new offensive coordinator, Greg Davis, Coach Campell, the receivers coach, and then I talked to Coach Ferentz. They were all really very nice and I feel like I could really fit in well with them."
Willies almost said "yes" right there and then.
"It was hard not to say yes right there. My guardian kind of told me to just wait and see what happens and not jump into a commitment at that moment."
Scouting snippet (from ESPN.com)
The Positive: Willies is a big, physical player that is at his best as a short and deep target. He moves almost like an H-back and with time could develop into one. He is imposing and strong, but also a player that climbs to full speed, does not bolt to it. Possesses the strength and body to outmuscle defenders when running routes and positioning himself for the catch. . . . Does a nice job shielding the ball from defenders and knows how to use his frame to win in contested match-ups. Has long arms, but still needs to work at attacking the ball at its highest point, especially on posts and streak routes. Must consistently use his height to his advantage on deep routes because he is not a burner that can just run by people especially if matched-up against top speed threats. . . . Red area upside is evident without question. His measurables alone will garner BCS interest. Must continue to develop as a route runner.
The Pause: We feel he is a guy that most would say does not have great speed and in a short area with the opportunity to pull away we would agree he may struggle in this area, but once he gets to the second level he builds competitive speed and climbs the ladder as he goes. He is very difficult to tackle one-on-one and gets decent yards after the catch as a result. He does not possess sudden or explosive change-of-direction, but he does have the elusiveness to surprise you a little when he gets in the open field. . . . Willies will be a bit of a project as a route runner. He is high and lacks hips fluidity to sink and get into and out of breaks smoothly -- labors and telegraphs his intentions too often.
What Iowa said . . .
Recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson: "He's a big guy who can run. He is a wide receiver. One of the more impressive guys we've had in our camps. We're very excited about him. . . . Just a tremendous person who's been through a lot in his life. We are very excited to get him on our team."
What Rivals.com said . . .
Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt: “He's a big wide receiver who could play safety, too. He could play linebacker. He's a little bit of a lesser-known commodity than a lot of the other guys on this list, because he's changed high schools and played a few positions. He's a guy who could have a wide range of expected contribution over there at Iowa. He's one who has the size and skill set."
What I think (FWIW, obviously) . . .
I think Willies is perhaps the position-flexible recruit Iowa might have. His size could land him at linebacker. His speed could keep him at wide receiver. His growth could make him a tight end. His background has made him a recruit that the Iowa staff is excited to see grow.