University of Miami

UM D-tackle ‘G’ Willis ready to honor Chad Thomas and rock the turnover chain vs. LSU

The University of Miami defensive tackle known by one letter is about to play in his first football game since 2016.

Defensive tackle Gerald ‘G’ Willis, the 6-4, 300-pound redshirt senior who was a 5-star recruit in high school and dominated on the scout team last season while getting his personal life in order, is more than ready.

Willis grew up in New Orleans, less than an hour-and-a-half drive from the home of LSU in Baton Rouge, but played for the Florida Gators as a freshman before getting dismissed from Florida for disciplinary reasons.

He came to the Gators as an Under Armour All-American and USA Today first-team All-USA out of New Orleans Edna Karr High School.

Now, after spending 2015 on the sideline at UM, per NCAA transfer rules, and after playing nine games in 2016 before undergoing surgery for a torn MCL, Willis is thrilled to be back.

“I’m very excited, man,’’ Willis said Wednesday after practice. “I’m just ready to play and ball out with my brothers. I’m just ready to get out there and show people what I can do.

“Just the picture of it, coming out, playing LSU, I have my whole entire family there supporting me. When I was getting recruited, LSU was one of my top picks. It’s my hometown, and I’m just ready to showcase my talent.”

Willis is wearing No. 9 this season instead of his former No. 91. He said he did it to honor good friend and former UM defensive end Chad Thomas, who was drafted in April with the third pick of the third round by the Cleveland Browns.

“New year, new me,’’ Willis said. “Just like Chad. Chad was the leader on this team and he wore No. 9. I just always looked up to Chad, him being a leader. He was always in my ear a lot about being a leader. I just wanted to change my number to No. 9 — new year, new me.”

Willis was asked about the prospect of one day earning the turnover chain.

“It’s very exciting,’’ he said. “The turnover chain would be great, especially my first time, especially against LSU.”

UM preseason AP All-American safety Jaquan Johnson on what he is most concerned about for the opener:

“I’m not concerned at all. I’m looking forward to the challenge of going up against a tough SEC opponent. I know it’s going to be competitive. Those guys are athletic. The first game of the season everyone is going to be hyped and ready to go.”

UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on the turnover chain, which will be back this season but might be changed in some way:

“I hope it comes out multiple times on Sunday so everybody gets a good look at it. It will be a little different.

“It’s funny, we don’t talk about it. You would think it would be a bigger point of topic in our meeting room, but it’s not. The players know it’s coming out, but we’re more worried about what causes it to come out, which is being disruptive, which is getting after the running game and getting after the quarterbacks and things we believe cause turnovers.’’

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