Friday started off early at the team hotel as the AFC and NFC teams suited up for their team photos. It’s a great opportunity for the teams to get photos of all their players together as a group for a quick photo.
Once again, Donovan McNabb provided all the needed comic relief during the NFC photo. One of the photographers was wearing a full Florida State warmup suit. His clothes, combined with his gray hair made him look exactly like former FSU coach Bobby Bowden…minus his famous hat of course.
“Hey Bobby!” McNabb yelled. “You’ve had a great career Bobby, sorry to see you go.”
Some of the players were then asked to come over as a team and speak with members of the armed forces on a live teleconference. The Vikings and the 49ers both spoke for the NFC. One of the members of the military asked Adrian Peterson why they fumbled six times in the conference championship game against the New Orleans Saints.
“Man, tough crowd,” Jared Allen responded.
Allen was then asked how it was to play with the oldest quarterback in the NFL, Brett Farve.
“It’s great,” Allen said. “We get discounts at the movie theaters.”
Take a look at our photo gallery from picture day. It was truly quite a show, highlighted by McNabb sporting a police officer’s uniform and riding around on the officer’s scooter.
One sentimental sight at this week’s practices was Patrick Willis’ former high school coaches Rod Sturdivant and Jack McGee. The two surprised Willis, making the trip from Bruceton, Tennesse to Miami.
“Coach Sing said, ‘I’m going to ask two other people to come.’ And he didn’t tell me who he was going to ask,” Willis said. “When I saw them I was really excited because those are the guys who really helped me get to where I am today.”
As much as Sturdivant and McGee impacted Willis’ career, Willis also left quite an impression on his coaches while he was in high school.
“He was a man amongst boys,” Sturdivant said. “As you can see now with where he’s gone, in our league he was head and shoulders above everyone else. He was a leader by example. He’s a quiet individual, but we really saw his great work ethic in everything he did, his schoolwork and also on the field.”
Playing in a small town like Bruceton, the competition level may not have been as high as some of the larger football divisions. That didn’t hinder Willis, it made him work that much harder.
“I had ambitions, I had dreams,” Willis said. “I wanted to get to where I am now. This is my third Pro Bowl and I’m grateful. I thank God every day.”
For Sturdivant and McGee, seeing their former pupil in the NFL’s all-star game for the third time in three years is rewarding.
“It’s unbelievable and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving young man,” Sturdivant said.
The turning point for Willis occured in his first year with Sturdivant and McGee. Willis was only a Freshman, playing on the kickoff return team when a short kick headed straight for him. Willis bobbled the kick and it was recovered by the opposing team.
“I felt so bad, but coach McGee said, ‘You know what, forget about this. I want you to get in there and play defense,”’ Willis recalled. “From that point I went out and played defense lights out. To this day, that’s why I love to play defense as much as I do. That was the start of it.”
Though Willis’ team when on to lose that quarterfinal game, the advice certainly benefited him and the rest of the defense Willis will be playing with during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. The NFC boasts an imposing linebacker corps with the likes of Brian Orakpo of the Redskins, DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys and Clay Matthews of the Packers.
“I got to know Patrick before the draft a little bit and he’s a great guy,” Orakpo said. “He’s a playmaker and that’s what I like – guys who make plays, but who are still very humble in their football careers. Hopefully there’s still plenty more Pro Bowls to come for him.”
Here’s my entire interview with Willis after Friday’s practice.
Tags: Patrick Willis, Pro Bowl
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