The Rider junior has made that clear with a pair of three-touchdown performances in the Raiders’ first two games, including Friday’s 32-19 victory against Frisco Independence at Memorial Stadium.
But as great as Willis is with the ball in his hands, he may be even better chasing opposing quarterbacks. If you ask Willis, there’s not as much difference between the skills required to excel in each role.
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You just got to have a violent mindset,” Willis said about rushing the passer. “It’s the same mindset I have when I run the ball. I just watch the ball. Whenever the ball is snapped, I’m on it.
Willis rushed for 145 yards and three TDs on 23 carries. He also caught a 33-yard pass that set up another score.
On defense, Willis finished with two sacks but forced several errant throws by Independence quarterback Joe Veracruz. Willis often raced by Independence’s offensive linemen quickly after the ball was snapped.
Playing defense gives me the vision to play offense,” Willis said. “And playing offense gives me the vision to play defense.
Willis is one of several Raiders seeing considerable playing time on both sides of the ball.
Many of Rider’s receivers also rotate in on defense, including Xavier Banks, Kaden Jones and Tyrone Morgan. Banks turned a tunnel screen into a 53-yard TD in the second quarter. He then intercepted a pass from his linebacker spot that set up a scoring drive right before halftime.
Other Raiders seeing significant time on offense and defense are Luke Gambs and Chase Stafford. Both players recorded tackles for loss Friday.
Athletes playing on both sides of the ball isn’t uncommon at lower classifications. Many Class 5A teams try to limit how often it happens, hoping to keep fresh players on the field.
For example, Frisco Independence– a Class 5A Division II program– has one player who sees regular snaps on offense and defense. Reggie Bush II rushed for 122 yards and two TDs on eight carries, while also playing the Knights’ secondary.
Playing athletes both ways works fine against opponents like Dumas. The Demons are in the same boat as a Class 4A Division I program. They must use players on both sides of the ball.
It can be dicey against opponents from bigger schools like Independence. But you would have never known it Friday.
” None of them will play both sides full time. We alternate them in and out,” Bindel said. “That takes a lot of planning, and it doesn’t always work out perfectly. But I think our coaching staff has done a great job sharing players to make the best use of them.”.
Through two weeks, the Raiders are not showing the signs of decline outsiders expected after graduating a historically successful senior class. And the quality of depth at multiple positions, featuring two-way players, is a significant reason why.
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