Willis' funny reason for converting to full-time linebacker


Patrick Willis was a star running back and linebacker during his high school days in West Tennessee, rushing for over 2,000 yards and recording 133 tackles, 10 sacks and six interceptions as a senior.

Recruited as an athlete, Willis had the chance to play both positions in college at Ole Miss. But as he explained to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco on 49ers Talk, a moment in practice made him decide to focus on playing linebacker exclusively.

"We had our first practice, and I was on the defensive side of the ball, and I'll never forget, our running back came through the line and our safety flew past me and it sounded like a freight train, he hit the running back and I mean the noise was like 'pow'," Willis told Maiocco. "I remember saying to myself 'I think I'm gonna stay on the defensive side of the ball because nobody is gonna be hitting me that hard, I'm gonna be hitting people like that' and so that's when I made the decision to stay on the defensive side of the ball. 

"The running back coach at the time said 'I thought you was maybe gonna try some running back for me' and I was like 'you know what, I'm gonna stay on the defensive side.' "

Willis, of course, became one of the NFL's hardest-hitting linebackers after his career at Ole Miss. Over eight NFL seasons (all with the 49ers) Willis registered 950 tackles, leading the league in two of his first three years.

RELATED: Willis 'honored' joining Taylor, legends in 49ers Hall of Fame

Given how many running backs and other offensive players were on the receiving end of a bone-crushing hit from Willis, it's fun to imagine what it would have been like for Willis in the NFL if he were getting handoffs and running downhill.

Luckily for defensive players across the league, Willis chose to be a linebacker instead of chasing a career as a tailback.

And by looking back at his extraordinary NFL career, it seems Willis made the right decision.

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