Patrick L. Willis was born January 25, 1985, in Tennessee. Willis grew up in extreme poverty and an abusive environment. By the age of 10 he was working in the cotton fields. By the age of 17 he and his siblings moved in with Willis' high school basketball coach after his alcoholic father became increasingly abusive.
Willis would be a two-time All-State football player. But he was overlooked a a lot in recruiting. Rivals.com ranked him as a three-star recruit and the 60th best linebacker in the country. University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) would recognize his talent.
While at Ole Miss, Willis became one of the best defensive players in the SEC and country. By his junior year he was an All-American, leading the SEC in total tackles at 12.80 per game, finishing with 128 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Willis would be a force again his senior year, leading the SEC in tackles once again with 137. He was awarded SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus first-team All-America, and a Jack Lambert and Dick Butkus Award winner for best linebacker in the country.
Willis is a physical specimen, looking almost more like a body builder than a football player. At his pro day at Ole Miss, he was clocked in at a 4.38 40-yard dash, and at the Combine he posted a 39-inch vertical leap. Willis went from a late first-round to second-round pick to the 11th overall selection by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2007 NFL Draft.
In his rookie year, Willis became an instant NFL star. He led the league in tackles with 174, earning first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors while being named the 2007 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Willis would go on to make the Pro Bowl in his first six seasons. In his 8 seasons he has 950 tackles.
In the 2012 season, Willis helped lead the 49ers back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season. Despite losing to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, Willis had 29 tackles in the postseason.
Willis, unfortunately only played in 6 games this past season, hampered by a toe injury that required surgery. He vowed to come back stronger than ever.
Here's to you Patrick Willis and to your recovery back to the field. Happy Birthday.