Former Auburn QB turning into star at Liberty
When Malik Willis arrived at Auburn as a 3-star quarterback out of Roswell, Georgia, in the class of 2017, there weren’t many expectations for him.
Now, in 2020, Willis is a potential Heisman candidate; not with Auburn, though. He’s helping lead the Liberty Flames as they are now 7-0, coming off a last-second win over Virginia Tech.
After the win, Willis was his traditional self: celebrating the victory, but making sure to praise God as well.
“To have the trust and faith in each other and have the faith in God that we was gonna pull it out and then actually pull it out and come in there and be there with your brothers that worked all summer, all winter, all everything with, it just was amazing,” Willis said. “A feeling that you just can’t forget.”
In the win, Willis completed 20-of-30 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Adding 19 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown.
But Willis’ performance wasn’t without flaws, as he fumbled four times and two ended up being turnovers.
After the game, rather than focusing on his big plays that kept the Flames in the game, he took accountability for his mistakes.
“That’s gotta get handled by me, first and foremost,” Willis said. “I was the only one dropping the football.”
On the season, Willis and the Flames have put together victories over two Power Five schools, and are ranked No. 22 in the country.
Willis has completed 108-of-161 passes (67.1%) with 1,339 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
If Auburn fans remember him during his two seasons with the Tigers, while Willis’ arm is dangerous, it’s his legs that can ultimately kill a defense.
And so far, they have been doing just that. He’s carried the ball 90 times for 603 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and reached the end zone seven times.
Willis leads all FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards and is 17th among all FBS rushers on the season.
All of this has garnered the former Auburn quarterback Heisman attention, but he’s tried not to focus on that.
“I don’t really too much worry about it,” Willis said about the hype around his performance this year. “Because at the end of the day, people gonna think what they wanna think. I’m just trying to go out there and win games and give all the glory to God. At the end of the day, I can’t really focus too much about what the media says, no offense. I just can’t be focused on that.”
While Willis remains focused on himself, his former coach has kept up with his performance this year.
“First of all, he's a wonderful person. It doesn't surprise me at all. He's very talented,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “And, like I said, me and Hugh [Freeze] are very close. He would keep me updated on how he's doing. So it doesn't surprise me. And they've got it going on. That was an unbelievable win. And happy for Malik, happy for Hugh. But doesn't surprise me.”
Willis and Liberty still have an ACC matchup with NC State and a trip to take on No. 15 Coastal Carolina, but they’re not backing down anyone.
“We just go out there and were not scared of anyone. We can’t worry about any logos being older than our logos, you know, because that’s not what it comes down to,” Willis said. “In our minds, I feel like we get overlooked sometimes because this is our first couple years in FBS football so you don’t really know what you’re gonna get out of us.”
“We just wanna work hard and be the team that we can be every day. We’re not really too worried about being Top 25 this, Top 25 that. We just try and go out there and win games when it comes down to it.”
No matter what happens to end the season, though, Willis just feels blessed that he got the opportunity to play.
“I feel like all of this has just been a big old test. All this time off, all this time at home, away from the team and then coming back and having to do things a certain way and then we have shortened springs and stuff like that, He’s just testing us to see if we’re resilient,” Willis said about being able to play this season. “So if we’ll accept His blessings because we’re one of the programs that are blessed to play right now. A lot of people are canceled and haven’t even started their season so we just gotta accept the blessings that we get. If we're gonna get the chance to go out there and play, we just gotta take advantage of it.”
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