Willis no flash in pan

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

The way Odell Willis paints the scene, it sounds like you'd need a compass and a bit of luck to even find the place.

In a sun-soaked and football-crazed state, his alma mater -- the University of West Georgia -- is just a tiny speck on the map.

"It's just a nice little, small town," Willis said. "You've got Georgia Tech down the road, Georgia, then you've got the inner-city schools. And then you've got little West Georgia out there."

Despite a dominant collegiate career with the West Georgia Wolves, the scouts seldom ventured to the University of Carrolton to see Willis in action.

He's certainly getting plenty of exposure in his rookie campaign with the Calgary Stampeders. Through three weeks, the 24-year-old from Meridian, Miss., is tied for tops in the CFL with three quarterback sacks. He tossed Toronto Argonauts pivot Kerry Joseph to the turf twice Friday and added two more tackles as the defending Grey Cup champions snapped a two-game losing streak with a 44-9 victory.

While Willis became a known entity at the West Georgia campus, three-down football fans might be feeling like the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder came out of nowhere to emerge as a force on Calgary's front four.

Willis was a healthy scratch for the regular-season opener against the Montreal Alouettes, then activated for a trip to Winnipeg to battle the Blue Bombers. He registered his first CFL sack at Canad Inns Stadium and followed up with two more last week.

The Stamps seem to have found an effective combination along the defensive line, with Willis and Malik Jackson occupying the end positions and Mike Labinjo moving inside to join forces with Tom Johnson. The front foursome combined for five sacks, nine tackles and a forced fumble against the Argonauts.

Willis was a major factor in the equation.

"He's a very quick, athletic pass-rusher," said Stamps boss John Hufnagel. "He won his battles by his athleticism but also power. He gave the tackles for Toronto a handful all night long."

Followers of the little-known Gulf South Conference -- the same collegiate proving ground for former Southern Arkansas Muleriders star Nik Lewis -- probably saw it coming.

Willis sits second among the Wolves' all-time sack leaders with 20.5 and also holds West Georgia's single-game record for tackling the quarterback for a loss four times. He was a two-time conference first-team all-star and was named a Division II All-American in his senior campaign.

After racking up five sacks in one outing with the Arena League's Green Bay Blizzard last season, Willis is eager to show CFL fans he's not a flash in the pan.

His checklist for success hasn't changed much since he first arrived in the Stampede City.

"Just keep up the work I'm doing," he shrugged. "Don't take days off, continue to study my playbook, continue to watch film, continue to stay in the weight room, and continue to give effort. As long as I continue to do those things, I should have no problems. It's once you start slacking and get the big head and stuff starts happening the way you want, that's when you have problems.

"You've just got to stay on top of your game."


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