AUBURN, Ala. — Malik Willis joined Auburn football as a complete long shot in the 2017 quarterback battle. And while the true freshman is most likely headed toward a redshirt season behind Jarrett Stidham, Sean White and Woody Barrett, that hasn’t stopped him from impressing in his first two weeks of practice.
Wills garnered the praise of head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey following the third and fourth practices of spring camp.
“For a freshman, for a guy that really should be in high school getting ready for prom, I think he’s been really, really good,” Lindsey said. “He’s a mature kid. … I think Malik is a very talented guy, he’s smart, he’s trying everything he can to soak in everything.”
Willis was one of the later additions to Auburn’s 2017 recruiting class. He held a commitment to Virginia Tech until last December, when the Tigers offered him a scholarship.
As SEC Country’s Benjamin Wolk noted in his feature on Willis earlier this year, the 3-star athlete only started at quarterback for a season and a half at Roswell High School in Georgia. He finished with 3,318 passing yards, 41 passing touchdowns, 1,725 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in the state’s highest classification of football.
That experience against elite competition is obvious in practices.
“He played at a great program at Roswell with some really good coaches,” Lindsey said. “You can tell he’s played a high level of high school football.”
Willis has been behind Stidham and Barrett — the current first- and second-team quarterbacks — in practices. According to Lindsey, those three quarterbacks have received “the bulk of the snaps so far” as White recovers from injury and John Franklin III reps at wide receiver.
Physically, the speedy Willis looks the part as a dual-threat quarterback in the Auburn offense. The biggest challenge for him, though, is making the adjustment to the college game.
“Malik’s got a very strong arm, and that’s really what stands out to me right now,” Malzahn said. “It’s just a matter of getting used to a new offense and everything that goes with it. There’s a lot of moving parts just with the communication before the play, and then you got the play and the reads and everything that goes with that. He’s got a real good attitude, but he’s got a really strong arm.”
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Lindsey likes where the true freshman’s head is at as the Tigers push ahead in their quarterback battle. During Week 2, the first-year offensive coordinator thought that Willis made a good breakthrough in his development.
“Obviously, you get up there the speed of the game in college football, your first time in it is going to be an adjustment,” Lindsey said. “(On Day 4), I really thought the game slowed down for him a little bit. He kind of got his feet going with his upper body, sometimes his feet are going one way and his body is going another. I really like his progress.”