Tide's Collins steers Willis to sign with Gators
Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 6:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — Moments before defensive lineman Gerald Willis III made his college choice at the Under Armour All-America Game in January, he reached out to someone who had been in his shoes.
Willis was down to Florida and LSU, and as a Louisiana recruit, the Tigers were expected to land him. His half-brother, Landon Collins, was also considered an LSU-lean heading into his announcement at the same game in 2012.
But Collins instead chose Alabama, where he's become a star safety for the Crimson Tide. When Willis realized he also wanted to leave the state, his conversation with Collins convinced him to go through with it.
“The last person I talked to was my brother,” Willis said after his commitment to UF. “He told me, 'You need to leave home. ... It's your choice, but I want you to see a different life and a better opportunity.' ”
Collins thought back on that talk at SEC Media Days last week.
“I just said, 'Follow where your heart wants to be,' ” Collins recalled. “He told me that he didn't want to let any coaches down. I said, 'It's not about the coaches. It's about where you want to be at in your future.'
“Clearly I had a big factor in that because he questioned me day in and day out. ... It's never easy for a mom to have both of her sons away from home.”
If it was up to their mother, April Justin, they would be teammates at LSU right now. She's infamous for the disapproval she showed on ESPN when Collins committed to Alabama.
He said they didn't speak for a week after that, but now she's proud of their decisions to leave Louisiana.
“When I wasn't talking to her, it destroyed me,” Collins said. “Going against the wishes of my mom was very hard. I had been raised by her all my life.
“It was easier for her the second time around. She knows her sons and she knows they didn't want to stay in the state.”
Collins expects his mother to be decked in Alabama and Florida gear when the two schools play at Tuscaloosa on Sept. 20. He said she'll just support them and not root for a team, but Willis has other plans.
“It's back to the old days,” Collins said. “It's competitive trying to see who's going to win. ... My brother says he's her favorite. He put his name in her phone as 'favorite son' so it says that when he calls.
“The relationship is fantastic between me and my brother. We've always been competitive since we've been growing up. It's been a great experience with him. I'm glad that he's at Florida doing his thing. I love my brother, and I wish him the best.”
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