Quarterback Malik Willis is one of many college players who have found success through the NCAA's transfer portal. Some players need a fresh start at a new college to either find playing time or salvage a rocky start to their career.
Willis is no stranger to having a shortage of playing time as a starter, but as fate would have it, he is now considered to be one of the top quarterbacks heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. But it is still a wonder as to why he left a nationally acclaimed program like Auburn and decided to go to the lesser-known Liberty.
The answer is quite simple: Malik Willis did not see the field. Through two seasons at Auburn (2017-2018), Willis started zero games and threw 14 passes in 12 games. Most of his work came from running the zone-read option. He had 28 rushes for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
It's more of a surprise that he went from throwing seven passes for 24 yards in 2018 to sitting out the 2019 season due to the old transfer rules and then starting ten games in 2020. In those games, he posted a 9-1 record with 265 pass attempts, 2,250 yards, 20 touchdowns, 944 rushing yards, and 14 rushing scores.
Malik Willis sat behind Jarrett Stidham for two seasons at Auburn and was likely never going to start a full season in his collegiate career if he stayed.
The Tigers had landed the #1 dual-threat quarterback in Bo Nix and were planning on him being the starter. With what we know now about how talented Willis is, how didn't he start more often at Auburn? Or go to a different school to be their starter? Again, a simple answer: there were no offers.
Malik Willis' limited history as a starting quarterback hampered his career
The issue traces back to his days of playing high school football. Willis did not play a full season on the varsity squad until he was a junior. However, he didn't even play as the quarterback until halfway through that season. His talents started to blossom once given the opportunity, though, as he won seven straight games to get his team into the postseason.
While he didn't get any interest from any colleges after his first season, Malik transferred to Roswell High School in Atlanta and saw more exposure to a few notable programs. By the time he graduated, he had only one offer for a scholarship as a quarterback, by way of Auburn. After zero starts in two years and his career slowing coming to an end, Malik Willis took the leap to join the Liberty Flames.
Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze stated that he didn't know what he was getting when Malik came to him. All of Willis' game film was of him running the zone-read option and there was one video of a private workout showcasing his arm talent. It was from this small sample that Freeze saw potential in Willis as his starter and the rest is history. With Willis under center, Liberty have gone two straight seasons with a bowl berth, posting a 17-6 record with 77 total touchdowns.
Now that the NCAA has altered their transfer rules, players no longer have to lose out on a whole season. One would imagine we are going to see more and more transfers from players trying to maximize their NFL value.
Few will follow Malik Willis in jumping from the SEC to an independent program not named Notre Dame, but Willis is a special case. The question now is whether he can continue his success in the pros after just 23 starts in college.