Sackmaster has come long way

KIRK PENTON

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

One of the newest members of the Bomber defensive line actually began his football life in the secondary.

"I started off at safety," 6-foot-2, 265-pound Odell Willis said. "And then that one summer I got introduced to weights ..."

The bigger he got, the closer to the line of scrimmage he moved. He started out as a linebacker at Choctaw County High School in Butler, Ala., and eventually moved up to defensive end.

If Willis had his way, he'd be back in the secondary, picking off passes.

"I liked touching the ball," he said with a chuckle.

The 24-year-old, who was acquired from the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday in a five-player trade, will make his Bomber debut tonight against the Argos -- at defensive end, just to be clear.

That's the position at which Willis starred while with the University of West Georgia Braves. He registered 126 tackles and 201/2 sacks in his four year-career.

Willis grew up in Choctaw County, which is among the poorest counties in the U.S. and is in the heart of the Black Belt. He was raised by his mother, Patricia, after his father, Odell Sr., died of a heart attack when he was four years old.

He didn't have many luxuries as a kid.

"We were behind a lot," Willis said. "Once I got to college and stuff I saw a lot of up-to-date stuff. I got my first cell phone. But it was fun. Everybody knew everybody."

Going to college in Carrollton, Ga., also allowed Willis to get a taste of the bright lights of Atlanta, which was 100 km up the road.

"I got to experience still being in the little small-town life, but you got the chance to hit the city," he said. "So it was a good experience."

After being passed over in the 2008 NFL draft, Willis played arena football in Peoria, Ill., and Green Bay, Wis., last year before signing with the Stampeders in May.

He started off on fire in Cowtown, registering six sacks in his first four games. He then cooled off big time and became a healthy scratch before getting dealt to Winnipeg last weekend.


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