The Miami Hurricanes will have to try to get revenge on the Wisconsin Badgers without perhaps their best player.
Gerald Willis, named a second-team All-American by multiple outlets in the past two weeks, will miss the Pinstripe Bowl to begin rehabbing a hand injury.
Willis, who projects as an early-round pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft, repeatedly said he planned to play in Miami’s bowl game regardless of destination. On Friday, the defensive tackle said in a Twitter post, however, he was advised to begin rehabbing rather than play in the Bronx, New York.
“I just would like to start off by saying that God is awesome and that without Him and His favor over me, I could not and would not be at this point in my life,” Willis wrote. “After the trials and challenges I experienced early on in my college career I am blessed to have experienced triumphs and successes this past season. Unfortunately, I suffered a hand injury and I have been advised to start rehab, and will not play in the bowl game.”
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While he didn’t specify when the injury took place, Willis did suffer an apparent finger injury in the Hurricanes’ win against the Florida State Seminoles in November. The senior did not miss any time because of the injury, though, and finished the year as one of the most productive interior defensive linemen in the country.
Wllis’ list of second-team All-American nods is long. The Associated Press, the American Football Writers Association of America, Sports Illustrated and USA Today all recognized Willis in recent weeks after he finished the regular season with 18 tackles for a loss, tied for 14th most in the country and the most for any defensive tackle. The defensive lineman also recorded 59 total tackles, four sacks, two passes defended and a fumble recovery this season.
This concludes an up-and-down career for Willis, which ends on a high note. An elite prospect out of Edna Carr in New Orleans, Willis began his college career with the Florida Gators, but was dismissed from the program after his freshman season.
He transferred to the Hurricanes and sat out a season before playing a reserve role in 2016. Willis took a leave of absence for personal reasons last fall before returning to play his senior season in Coral Gables, when he finally put everything together for a monster final campaign.
“We are proud of Gerald and all he has accomplished both on and off the field,” coach Mark Richt said in a statement. “Gerald is a remarkable person who has authored a remarkable story of strength, perseverance and determination. We wish him all the best and look forward to seeing where the next steps of his journey take him.”
So far, Willis is the only new player Miami (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) expects to miss its bowl game. Throughout the fall, every senior uniformly said he hoped to play in the postseason.
With Willis out of the lineup, the Hurricanes will have a chance to give some of their young defensive linemen an expanded role. Pat Bethel will likely start, as he usually does, with fellow defensive linemen Jon Ford or Tito Odenigbo likely to take Willis’ place. Nesta Jade Silvera, a highly touted freshman defensive lineman from Plantation American Heritage, should also see increased playing time.