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Dr. Saturday

Patrick Willis, the best inside linebacker in the NFL, desperately wanted to play for Tennessee – and the Vols passed

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

View photo

.

(USA Today Sports Images)

It's not so great to be a Tennessee Vol, at least not lately if you're a football fan. The program is struggling, and if the fans weren't feeling bad enough, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis added another punch to the gut during a pre-Super Bowl interview.

Willis is the best inside linebacker in the NFL, and has been for a few years. He went to Ole Miss and played on some bad teams, but was the 11th overall pick of the draft in 2007 and has dominated in the pros ever since.

And he only ended up at Ole Miss because he practically begged Tennessee to take him, but the Vols didn't want him.

Oof.

Willis talked about being in high school adoring Tennessee, which at the time had Phil Fulmer at head coach.

"I was a Vols fan growing up," Willis said, according to a transcript sent out by the NFL. "That was like America’s Team. I wanted to go there so bad. After every game my dad and I would get in the car and drive five hours to go to Knoxville to watch them play on an unofficial visit. This was on our gas money and our time. I just wanted to show them how bad I wanted to be there. I can’t forget being there and you have all these other big-time recruits there and they are shaking their hands and the coaches are talking to them. The coaches never shook my hand. They never talked to me."

Willis said he got tired of the lack of attention and was more forward with the coaches one day.

"My senior year, I remember going up and saying, ‘Coach I see all of the other guys getting love. I really want to come here. I’m interested in coming here. Do you have something for me? Maybe a scholarship offer? Maybe something just saying you want me?’" Willis said.
"But I didn’t get that. I got, ‘Well you’re having a hard time. We’re recruiting two other linebackers, Ernie Sims and Daniel Brooks. Those are the two guys we want and we don’t know if you’re going to make the ACT score.’

"I never forget looking at him and being like he basically said we’re not really interested, we don’t want you. I’ll never forget getting in the car with my foster dad and we’re riding home and I cried. I cried, not because I was sad, but more so because I knew how badly I wanted to be a Tennessee Vol."

Oh, man. That's brutal to hear if you're a Tennessee fan. Sims was a good college linebacker, but he went to Florida State. Brooks got into some trouble at Tennessee and was dismissed from team before he could deliver on his promise.

There will always be tales of recruiting mistakes (ask Texas' Mack Brown, who has famously missed out on in-state quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel for various reasons over the last few years). But it is really disheartening to hear one of the NFL's best players say years later that he wanted nothing more than to go to your school, but the school wasn't interested.

At least it worked out well for Willis.

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