I have to be honest. I had a bad, bad feeling about Gerald Willis’s chances of survival at Florida in the long term after he punched Jameis Winston out of bounds in the Florida-FSU game. I knew Muschamp was on his way out and Willis wouldn’t be under his jurisdiction anymore, so I can’t explain how I felt this, exactly, but the feeling deep down inside me was that he wasn’t long for Gainesville.
That feeling turned out to be true when today, Willis was kicked off the team for fighting with a teammate. You know, again. Much was made about his silly fight with QB Skyler Mornhinweg back in October over a pair of cleats, and while the details of this one aren’t quite clear, I’m told that it was serious enough to warrant his dismissal. Besides, he’s a repeat offender, and when you are repeatedly involved in fights with your teammates- in addition to taking a cheap shot on an opponent, even one as universally loathed as Jameis Winston- you cause more harm than good to your program, and you’ve got to go.
Credit to Jim McElwain for getting rid of him, and proving that character is just as important as on field results. Mac’s got a tough job to do in terms of holding this recruiting class together, and was counting on Willis, a former five star recruit himself, to step in and lessen the pressure of landing top recruits like Byron Cowart and Cece Jefferson. Now landing at least one of those two appears to be an absolute necessity.
Having said that, all that Willis really had was that “P” word that Muschamp hated so much. Willis just had potential, and very few actual results. The only real contribution Willis made that I can remember was recovering a crucial fumble at the goal line in the Birmingham Bowl. Florida was up 21-7, but East Carolina was driving. ECU QB Shane Carden tried to run it in, but was stripped, and Willis fell on the ball.
But nonetheless, Willis was counted on to play a big role in the front seven, and now Florida will be without him. It will be interesting to see Florida’s defensive line rotation without Willis. The line got a huge boost when Jonathan Bullard announced he would return, and Bryan Cox figures to play an increased role, but now the rest is really up in the air. Alex McAllister, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark all promise to have breakout seasons if they have great offseasons, but again, the pressure is really on McElwain now to land Cowart and Jefferson.
I have the feeling it will all work out, though. McAllister is a proven monster, while Holley and Clark are young and unproven, but very talented. Bullard and Cox give the Gators two experienced defensive linemen to start out with, and so I’m confident that after the youngsters take the lumps that most freshmen take, the defensive front will be just fine.