A former triple-option quarterback who threw for 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior at Marist School in Conyers, Ga., Myles Willis was open to the challenges and opportunities to contribute as a running back, wide receiver, and kick returner at Boston College.
“I was open to try new things, but I didn’t know how I would adjust,’’ said Willis, an explosive 5-foot-9-inch, 195-pound freshman. “I knew I wanted to come in and produce in any way I could, but I wasn’t really sure how that was going to be.’’
Neither did BC coach Steve Addazio, who was unsure of what kind of talent he had inherited in Willis, who also rushed for 1,181 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior, earning Georgia AAAA Region 6A All-State honors as an offensive Most Valuable Player.
“I didn’t have any high expectation because I really didn’t know a lot about Myles,’’ Addazio said. “Myles was committed, obviously, when I got here. I saw his tape and I saw he had skills.
“He’s explosive. He has ability, but his attitude and everything about him, you like guys that make you feel good. He’s an energy giver.’’
Three times this season, Willis has given the Eagles a jolt with an unexpected contribution. All were timely touchdowns that ranked as career firsts for Willis.
Against Florida State, Willis hauled in a 52-yard pass from Chase Rettig to pull BC within 38-27 in the third quarter. It was Willis’s first career touchdown and first as a receiver.
“Ever,’’ he said.
At Clemson, Willis gave BC a 7-0 lead when he ran for a 38-yard touchdown against the third-ranked Tigers to record his first score as a running back. “Ever,’’ he repeated.
And in BC’s 48-34 victory at New Mexico State last Saturday, Willis broke a 27-27 tie when he scored on a 98-yard kickoff return. Was it his first touchdown as a kick returner, as well?
“Oh, yeah — ever,’’ Willis said.
“Honestly, in high school, I never returned kicks because I wasn’t comfortable back there catching the ball on kickoffs,’’ he added. “So I never really tried it. I wanted to play quarterback because I never had the best hands growing up. But then you get here and you’ve got to work.’’
With the regular-season home finale Saturday against North Carolina State, it begged a question: Was Addazio going to allow Willis to hit for the cycle by letting him throw for a touchdown?
“You never know,’’ the coach said, breaking into a hearty laugh. “I mean, he was an option quarterback in high school. I tell you what, it’s a great lesson. Those option quarterbacks in high school end up being really good players in college because they’ve got all kinds of different skill sets.’’
With the Eagles likely to adopt more of a spread-option next season, Willis was asked if he considered auditioning at quarterback. “Nah,’’ he said. “I think with my height, we’ve got some big offensive linemen and I can’t see over them.’’
It never seemed to stop Doug Flutie, though. The dual-threat BC quarterback wound up catching the nation’s fancy and winning a Heisman Trophy, despite his diminutive stature. So Willis seemed perfectly positioned to be enrolled at a school where such an option was not likely to be readily dismissed.
“I’m more settled in at running back,’’ said Willis, whose primary role on the team is as understudy to senior Andre Williams, the nation’s leading rusher (163.4 yards per game).
“I’m just working on being more of an all-purpose back,’’ said Willis. “That’s been the toughest adjustment. In high school, the ball’s in your hands right from the start, so you don’t have to worry about it.
“Now, as an all-purpose back, you have to work to get the ball in your hands.’’
When he does get the ball, Willis has been an all-purpose scoring threat. So far this season he’s rushed 28 times for 165 yards and 1 TD, he has five receptions for 60 yards and 1 TD, and he’s made 20 kickoff returns for 544 yards, and ranks fourth among league return men with an average of 27.2 yards per return.
But it was his 98-yard TD return in the rarefied air of Las Cruces, N.M., that sent the Eagles to their first road win.
“It felt like I got a monkey off my back, a little bit, because I hadn’t been as productive,’’ Willis said, referring to a dropped pass and a run for no gain earlier in the game. “So it felt good to get that in.’’
As much as BC’s senior class has strained to help the Eagles reach the threshold of bowl eligibility, Willis would love nothing more than to be the freshman who helped his upperclassmen go out on a winning note in their final Alumni Stadium appearance.
“I’ve just got to be reliable,’’ Willis said. “If they kick it to us, I’ve got to make sure that I give us good starting field position. I’ve just got to do whatever I can, whether that’s catching the ball out of the backfield or running it. Either way, I’ve just got to help my seniors because they deserve to go out [as winners] in their last game at Alumni Stadium.’’
Said Addazio of Willis, “He’s definitely a guy [who’s] been a tremendous asset. I guess you’d have to say [he’s been] a big surprise to have the impact that he’s had so quickly.’’