Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Local Receiver Gets Shot at NFL ; Willis: Raiders' Camp Invitation 'Huge Blessing'

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Local Receiver Gets Shot at NFL ; Willis: Raiders' Camp Invitation 'Huge Blessing'

Article excerpt

Known for an almost legendary work ethic at Shawnee Heights and Emporia State, Austin Willis maintained his typical approach while preparing for a chance to catch the eye of NFL scouts.

Once he was given that opportunity, Willis merely turned in the type of performance he expected.

At ESU's pro day, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound receiver clocked a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, had a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times. He then turned heads after landing an invitation to KU's pro day.

"People, I guess, were kind of surprised that I ran that fast and jumped that far and did that many bench presses," Willis said. "But the thing is: I've been doing that kind of stuff the whole time. It's just about getting in front of the right people and doing it at the right time."

The right people took notice.

Willis is attending the Oakland Raiders' rookie minicamp this weekend.

"Everything I've been doing the last few months -- preparing for pro days and just going out and showing what I can do while I've been training -- that was all to just get the chance that I'm getting right now," Willis said. "Getting this opportunity, it's awesome. I'm grateful for all the people that kind of helped me along the way. They have just as big a part of it as I do."

After starring in football, track and field and wrestling at Shawnee Heights, Willis headed to ESU on a track scholarship and walked on to the football team.

He turned into a star receiver by his junior season and was on pace for a monster senior season before an injury to starting quarterback Brent Wilson resulted in a dip in his numbers. Willis still finished the season with 56 catches, 757 yards and six touchdowns.

Willis knows the biggest question for NFL teams will be his size, adding to his motivation to continue proving the doubters wrong.

"It's part of the drive. A lot of people have doubts that somebody that small can make a big impact," he said, pointing out that several smaller receivers have found NFL success recently, including Pitt State's John Brown (5-11). …

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