Ole Miss legend Patrick Willis knew something was up when Bryant Young showed up unannounced at his sister’s house last week.
Young — as Willis would later do after him — spent his entire NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2022.
Willis, just last week, became the third former Rebel enshrined in Canton. Young was responsible for breaking the news. Willis was putting up a basketball goal for his nieces at the time.
“Went to the front door and opened the front door and it’s kind of almost like I was looking at an offense,” Willis said. He was doing an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco and Jennifer Lee Chan. “I could see everything. I was like, ‘Wow, it’s time.’ That’s when it popped in my head. I saw (Young), I saw the jacket.
“It was a surreal moment.”
Willis became just the third former Ole Miss Rebel enshrined in Canton.
He joins Bruiser Kinard (1970) and Gene Hickerson (2007). Willis starred for Ole Miss from 2003 to 2006. No Rebel has been named to more All-American teams (13) in a single season, and he twice led the SEC in tackles.
He was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the year and is sixth in Ole Miss history in career tackles (355). He’s tied for sixth in career tackles for loss (33).
The 49ers drafted Willis with the No. 11 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Young’s final season. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year and was a seven-time All-Pro in eight seasons. He finished his NFL career with 950 combined tackles (732 solo, 218 assists). Willis had 20.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, five fumbles recovered, eight interceptions and two defensive touchdowns.
“If you have a will to do something, a will to be the very best and not let anything hold you back or be denied, that’s me standing here today,” Willis said, in an interview with the 49ers official site. “There was a bunch of naysayers, scribes and pundits along the way, as well as my own imperfections that could have brought doubt. Maybe had a little bit here and there.
“But to be standing here now, you couldn’t have that much doubt. You had to have belief and faith and work and grind in who you are.”
Willis’ 49ers face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. CT on CBS.
“To be on the brink of bringing home Super Bowl No. 6 for the organization, it’s a truly amazing moment,” Willis said. “I’m happy I can leave something behind that those guys, those football players that came behind me, can take and make their own as well.”