The awards keep coming for Jordan Willis.
In the past week, the senior Kansas State defensive end has been chosen Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by coaches and media, second-team All-America by Sporting News and Pro Football Focus and third-team All-America by the Associated Press. He also received an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, the nation’s most prestigious college all-star game.
“It’s been an honor to get all those things,” said Willis, from Rockhurst High and Kansas City. “It just shows what I was talking about at the beginning of the season, wanting to show how much I have improved. It’s always great to receive postseason honors. I am happy.”
And yet, none of it prepared him for the praise Bill Snyder threw his way Tuesday.
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“Jordan is the epitome of what our program is all about,” said Snyder, K-State’s longtime coach, at a news conference. “He comes to practice exactly the same way he goes to a ballgame. If you were unaware of the setting you couldn’t tell the difference between what he does on the practice field and what he does on the game field.
“Like I have said so many times, he is a young guy who gives you his very best of every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week. He has learned the value of that and what it has meant to him. He has allowed that to carry over into every aspect of his life. He is going to be a highly successful young guy in a lot of ways, because he is that committed to doing the best that he can.”
Snyder has spoken glowingly of many K-State football players over the years, but it’s obvious he has a special admiration for Willis.
He has been a defensive force for the Wildcats and a shining example of how to behave, and give maximum effort, off of it.
Willis, a graduating senior, was scheduled to receive his degree at a Bramlage Coliseum ceremony over the weekend and coaches told him he was excused from Saturday’s practice. The team wanted him to spend the day celebrating with family.
Willis appreciated the gesture, but he couldn’t stay away. When practice began, he was ready to go.
“It didn’t feel right for me not to go to practice,” he said. “We have had time off the last few days and I didn’t know what to do with myself. This is what I want to be doing.”
Snyder had a feeling Willis might show.
This is a player, after all, who says he spends upwards of five hours a day studying other players on video. He has broken down pass-rush moves on every starting defensive end in the NFL, and hundreds more in college.
“I’m not one to take anything for granted,” Snyder said. “But it didn’t surprise me a bit he was there.”
That work ethic helped Willis put together a stellar year. He made 48 tackles, including 16 1/2 for loss, and forced three fumbles. He was a constant menace to opposing quarterbacks, leading the Big 12 with 11 1/2 sacks.
He will leave K-State as one the best pass-rushers in program history and likely enter the NFL as an early-round draft pick.
“Jordan Willis is the best defensive end I have ever gone against,” K-State right tackle Dalton Risner said. “He can do it all. He gets around the edge real quick, he has fast hands, fast feet. But he can also drive you straight into the middle of the quarterback. He has a lot of versatility, and that is why he is going to be so great in the NFL.”
Willis has always been a good football player, but he elevated his game this season by finding consistency. Gone were the occasional down games where he seemed to disappear. He made an impact every Saturday.
K-State named him defensive player of the week seven times.
The awards are bigger now.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett