Leading up to the 2021 football season, Sports Spectrum will highlight
five Christ-following college quarterbacks to watch in 2021.
In only its third season at the FBS level, Liberty exploded onto the scene.
The Flames posted a 10-1 record in 2020, their first-ever top-25 ranking, a No. 17 ranking in the final AP poll and their first-ever win against a nationally-ranked FBS team when they beat No. 9 Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl, 37-34.
The driving force behind the Flames’ historic breakout season was their dual-threat quarterback Malik Willis, who was having a breakout season of his own in his first season as a collegiate starter.
Willis finished the 2020 campaign squarely in the Heisman Trophy conversation. He led the nation in rushing yards for quarterbacks, with 944 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, and for good measure, he added 2,250 passing yards with 20 passing touchdowns and only six interceptions.
— Malik Willis for Heisman (@Liberty_Flames_) January 7, 2021
Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 215 pounds, with an incredibly strong arm, many NFL mock drafts are projecting Willis to be selected somewhere in the first round (maybe top 10) of the 2022 NFL Draft. If so, he would be the first player from Liberty to be drafted higher than the fourth round. However, due to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Willis could still return to school.
In 2021, the Flames return 20 starters from last year’s 10-win team. The offense averaged 28.2 points per game last year, and many offensive weapons return. Willis is the driving force.
The 22-year-old redshirt senior certainly hears the hype surrounding what he might do in 2021 and who he might be playing for a year from now, but he is staying humble. He knows that God deserves the credit.
“People say I’m humble,” Willis told Sports Spectrum Magazine for the Fall 2021 issue, “but I don’t really know if it’s humble. It’s just very, very obedient, knowing that it’s not me at all.”
Willis also told Sports Spectrum that his personal faith journey began at a young age, when his grandma would take him and his two siblings to church every Sunday. But as he got older, God continued to work on his heart. He began to understand what faith in Christ actually meant and the impact God could have on the world through the talents God has given him.
“I just feel like He keeps beating it in my head: Just know how many people you influence, know what your impact does to people,” Willis said. “I feel like that’s just a reiterating thing because I keep going to these places being a counselor (at high school quarterback showcases), and I’m impacting a lot of young people’s lives. They’re looking up to me for things to do, things not to do and I’ve just got to be cognizant of how I want to leave my mark on them, what I want them to remember from me.”
Willis grew up in Roswell, Georgia, and originally committed to play for Auburn behind Jarret Stidham, but after two years with minimal playing time and failing to win the starting job in 2019 spring practice, Willis entered the transfer portal. Wanting to go to a school where his faith could flourish, and with former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze recently being hired at Liberty, the Flames seemed like a natural fit.
“It was the people here, the opportunity (to play right away) and the ability to get closer to God,” Willis told Sports Spectrum about his decision to attend Liberty. “… I felt like I needed to get closer to Him. And the people here definitely influenced that a lot and made it a part of what they were trying to do in order to get us closer to God, no matter where we are in our stage, to help us on our journey.”
Although he had to sit out the 2019 season due to transfer rules, Willis engrossed himself in team Bible studies, chapel sessions and team-bonding activities. He has since become a leader on the field and a spiritual leader off of it.
Willis wore a black armband that said “God’s Plan” during all games last season, eventually adding a white sleeve that said “Faith over Fear.” He acknowledges his faith on social media, often ending posts with “#TGFE” — Thank God For Everything.
TGFE-🙏🏾 Thank God For Everything
— Malik Willis (@malikwillis) September 24, 2017
Whatever happens for Willis this fall, he’ll remain thankful to God, trusting in His plan and reliant on Him for strength.
“No matter how long we live, we will never know what God has going on for our lives, so we’ve just got to lean on Him — ask for wisdom and the strength to get through it,” Willis said. “That’s what I ask for the most: wisdom and strength to get through it.”
Willis and his Liberty teammates are scheduled to open the 2021 season at home against Campbell on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
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