CHARLOTTE, N.C.– The Hurricanes’ vaunted defense took a hit Thursday when the University of Miami announced that redshirt junior defensive tackle Gerald Willis “will be taking a leave of absence from the football program.’’
Willis will not compete in 2017, per UM.
“Gerald remains part of the Miami family and may take part in designated team activities,’’ coach Mark Richt said in a written statement.
Richt will arrive at the Westin in Charlotte on Friday, when the coach and linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and tailback Mark Walton will represent the Hurricanes at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff.
When asked if Willis was suspended, as he was for the 2016 opener and bowl game, UM spokesman Camron Ghorbi reiterated that “Willis has taken a leave of absence’’ and did not elaborate.
Willis, listed at 6-4 and 285 pounds, transferred from Florida to Miami after his freshman season in 2014. He came to the Gators as an Under Armour All-American and USA Today first-team All-USA out of New Orleans, but his short career as a Gator was a bumpy one.
Willis sat out 2015 in Coral Gables, per NCAA transfer rules, and played in nine games last season for the Canes, with 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks. But he injured his knee Oct. 8 against Florida State, sat out the next two games and eventually underwent knee surgery.
His departure this season leaves standout starting tackles Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh with Anthony Moten and former end Pat Bethel as the expected top backups.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz told the Herald’s Barry Jackson before the Willis news that Willis was a valuable member of his defensive line.