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July 17, 2012
In a recruiting world where tweets, Facebook posts, texts messages and all-expenses-paid camps dominate the where and when and which prospective college athletes are interested in these days, four-star defensive back Priest Willis has a bit of a different agenda than most of his peers.
Flashy new uniforms? Keep them. What company's logo is on the sleeve of the school's jersey? Doesn't matter. How many tweets the head coach has? Send them back.
For Willis, his recruitment may come down to this: A two-year old baby girl.
Like many top 100 recruits, Willis has a lot on his mind this time of year. There are dozens of college coaches running up his phone bill and stalking him on social media; there's the pressure to perform in his senior year; there's high school drama and homework and girls and all manner of things 17-year-olds deal with.
But for Willis, he's got something so much bigger on his plate.
"She's my only sibling in Arizona," Willis said of his two-year-old baby sister. "I have to mature around her, watch the stuff I do around her -- which helps me grow up. I need to grow up for college, and it just helps me stay straight, stay focused and become overprotective. I have to have that protective mentality, I have to get serious a lot, because it's my little sister and I have to take care of her."
So when it comes time to pick a college, the school better know how to treat Willis and his sister right.
When he and his family arrived at UCLA recently, they found out they can definitely get that support from head coach Jim Mora and his staff.
Willis and his baby sister made it into Westwood several weeks ago, and right away, it became obvious the two-year-old girl was going to be the star of the show.
"She took command," Willis said. "She was in control."
She grabbed things from Mora's desk and hurled them. She messed up papers, drew on tables and tried on helmets.
And when the Tasmanian Devil finally slowed from a blur back to a normal baby, leaving a wake of a mess behind her in a million-dollar head coach's office, Mora got on a knee beside her and couldn't do anything but laugh.
"The coaches, they just loved her," Willis said with a smile. "It was great. It was just a great experience for us. My baby sister, she really loved all the coaching staff."
It was an experience Willis hasn't had with any other coaches or campuses he's seen. Schools talk about family and preach it all the time, but the Bruins were the first ones to actually show Willis they meant it.
"I can tell they're really good with family members and they really take care of people," the four-star standout said. "I can tell the coaches have great character and I just love being around them."
Willis is months away from making a decision. He has plenty of tweets, Facebook messages and hand-written letters about what a swoosh will look like on his chest to sift through.
But when he ultimately does sit down to finally choose which school he wants to attend, a meeting between a 50-year-old coach and a two-year-old baby girl may just trump everything.
"Just to take your baby sister and laugh with her and have the patience with her, even though she can take stuff and throw it around, and just laugh and put it back up and say, 'Ah, it's OK,'" Willis said, "it's just crazy. It's wonderful."