Ole Miss and the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced that they will jointly honor 2019 electee Patrick Willis with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute at the end of the first quarter of Saturday’s game vs. Vanderbilt.
The addition of Willis’ No. 49 to the south endzone wall will also be unveiled alongside the other Rebels already in the Hall of Fame.
The NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute program, which began with the inaugural College Football Hall of Fame Class in 1951, has become a hallowed tradition, and to this day the singular events remain the first of numerous activities in each inductee’s Hall of Fame experience.
“It’s truly a blessing,” Willis told ABC7 News in San Francisco during a segment on the field before the College Football Playoff National Championship in January. “I’m truly grateful. There are a lot of guys who played college football who are very deserving, and for me to be one of these guys to be added to the College Hall of Fame – I’m truly blessed.”
“Patrick Willis had one of the best careers in Ole Miss history that he capped off by winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “He is truly worthy of the College Football Hall of Fame, and we are thrilled to honor him at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.”
A consensus First Team All-American in 2006, Willis took home both the Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award as the best linebacker in the country. The 2006 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Most Valuable Lineman was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player.
A two-time First Team All-SEC selection, Willis also earned honorable mention laurels in 2004, and he led the conference in tackles as both a junior (128) and senior (137). As a junior, his 9.0 solo tackles per game led the nation while his 12.8 total tackles per game ranked sixth.
During his senior campaign, he averaged 11.4 tackles per game, which also ranked sixth in the nation, while his 7.25 solo tackles per game were the third best. As a freshman in 2003, Willis helped the Rebels to a share of the SEC West title, a victory in the 2004 Cotton Bowl and a No. 13 final ranking.
The senior team captain ranks sixth all-time at Ole Miss with 355 career tackles, and he is tied for fifth with 33 career tackles for loss. Willis was the recipient of the 2006 Conerly Trophy, as the best college football player in the state of Mississippi, and the Ole Miss Chucky Mullins Courage Award. The Bruceton, Tennessee, native ended his collegiate career as the Defensive MVP for the South Team in the 2007 Senior Bowl.
Willis matched his on-field success in the classroom, earning Academic All-SEC honors and receiving the 2007 Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award. A 2015 inductee into the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame, he was selected to SI.com’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
The 11th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Willis played eight seasons for the San Francisco 49ers. The 2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and seven-time Pro Bowl selection twice led the NFL in tackles and won the professional Butkus Award in 2009.
Overcoming adversity, Willis was able to find success on and off the field despite an unstable upbringing where he was forced to raise his three younger siblings. A member of the 2006 SEC Community Service Team, he was active in reading, mentorship and food drive programs during his time at Ole Miss.
Since his retirement from the NFL, Willis has been a technology investor in Silicon Valley and remains active with local charities.
Willis becomes the 10th former player or coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as an Ole Miss Rebel, joining Charlie Conerly (1942, 1946-47), Charlie Flowers (1957-59), Jake Gibbs (1958-60), Parker Hall (1936-38), Bruiser Kinard (1935-37), Archie Manning (1968-70), Barney Poole (1942, 1947-48), John H. Vaught (1947-70, 1973) and Wesley Walls (1985-88). Two other members of the Ole Miss family have also been enshrined in the hall (Doug Kenna and Thad “Pie” Vann).
The 2019 College Football Hall of Fame Class will be officially inducted during the 62nd NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the New York Hilton Midtown on Tuesday, Dec. 10. This year’s College Football Hall of Fame Class includes: Terrell Buckley (Florida State), Rickey Dixon (Oklahoma), London Fletcher (John Carroll [OH]), Jacob Green (Texas A&M), Torry Holt (North Carolina State), Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (Notre Dame), Darren McFadden (Arkansas), Jake Plummer (Arizona State), Troy Polamalu (Southern California), Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), Lorenzo White (Michigan State), Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), Vince Young (Texas) and coaches Dennis Erickson (Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami [FL], Oregon State, Arizona State) and Joe Taylor (Howard, Virginia Union, Hampton, Florida A&M).
The 2019 Class will also be honored during the 15th Annual National Hall of Fame Salute at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 28, and they will be forever immortalized at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
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