Football's Willis returns from broken hand to lift passing attack in senior season
Corey Willis was in the midst of his second straight game leading the CMU passing game with eight catches on Sept. 9 at Kansas.
Already recording 140 yards and a score against KU, the Central Michigan football senior wide receiver made a catch along the sideline pushing his team deep into Jayhawk territory.
Then, as he was being tackled, his wrist turned the wrong way. Willis knew something wasn't right.
“It was pretty obvious I had broke something," he said. "I felt it."
Willis would end up missing the next three games, and while he played against Ohio, Willis was held without a catch.
The Chippewas lost all three games in his absence and he knew his team needed him back on the field.
“It was a really emotional time for me,” Willis said. “Anytime you hear something is broken, you start thinking the season could be over and its time to kind of pack it in.
“However, once I heard it was only going to be in a cast for four weeks, it was still kind of scary, but I knew I’d have the chance to comeback and so far its been easy for me thanks to my teammates.”
One of his teammates, graduate transfer quarterback Shane Morris, said he couldn't have been happier to get him back.
“This experienced group of wide receivers is a lot of the reason I decided to transfer to CMU,” Morris said. “Corey was definitely one of the top guys who came out and helped me right away. He made sure I knew they were going to give it their all for this team and they have trusted me since day one.”
For Willis, catching passes from Morris, a left-handed quarterback, was an adjustment from playing with former CMU quarterback Cooper Rush because it was “all I knew”.
“I was always under somebody and asking for questions and guidance. With Shane, I had to take a leadership role and make sure things were always upbeat just because I knew everything was new for him. They are both great quarterbacks and now Shane and I are going out together.”
The combination of Willis and Morris reunited the minute Willis was back to full strength and CMU has won four games in a row.
Willis said he felt like himself again against Ball State, when he caught five passes for 98 yards, while adding three TDs.
In the next game against in-state rival Western Michigan, Willis made arguably the play of the season for the Chippewas and a play he says is his top moment as a player.
Streaking down the middle of the field with under three minutes to play in a tie game, Morris found Willis for a 77-yard touchdown pass to complete a 21 point comeback in the final 10 minutes of the game to top the Broncos, 35-28 in Kalamazoo.
The Holland native said it meant a lot to him not only because it’s his final season as a Chippewa, but also because of where he is from.
“Coming from that area of the state, all I heard throughout high school and growing up was Western (Michigan) this and Western that,” Willis said. “To make a play like that to remind everyone why I came to CMU was special and not to mention, it takes the place of the Oklahoma State play.
“I’d rather have people remember me for this.”
Since that game, Willis has added 11 catches for 146 yards and three more touchdowns to give him a total of 39 receptions for 587 yards and eight TDs in eight games this season.
“Corey has done this kind of stuff for us since he arrived here, so it’s no surprise to me that he was able to bounce back like he has,” head coach John Bonamego said. “If there is one guy that wants to make the ‘big play,’ it would be Corey. I think he’d agree with that."
As his tenure with CMU comes to a close, Willis has accumulated 154 receptions for 2,308 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career. Those 22 touchdowns are tied with former CMU star wideout Antonio Brown for third in program history.
To Willis, other subjects are “more important” for him to be remembered by.
“I just want to be thought of as someone who was a playmaker and a guy you could count on,” Willis said. “If you’re mentioned in the same category as Antonio Brown you're doing something right, but I want to be thought of as someone who brought a lot of energy to this team.”