WINNIPEG - Odell Willis was doing an interview on Thursday when Clint Kent strolled up and called him Clay Matthews.
Turns out Willis isn’t a big fan of the nickname. Not that he has anything against the Green Bay Packers linebacker. He just wants to be Odell Willis.
And that makes sense because the Bombers defensive end is one of a kind. No one has more energy, talks more trash or makes fans laugh more than Odell Willis.
Not only that, but with the departure of Phillip Hunt to the NFL, no one in Blue and Gold is able to track down quarterbacks like Willis, who recorded 21 sacks in his first two CFL seasons.
Willis doesn’t want to be known as the CFL’s Clay Matthews, because he’s still attempting to make a name for himself.
“I’m trying to. It’s my third year. I feel like it’s a big year,” Willis said. “People are saying, ‘Can he keep doing it?’ I heard the talk, ‘Can he do it without Phillip?’ I did it without him before he got here (in the first half of 2009).”
Hunt led the CFL with 16 sacks last year, and Willis was third in the league with 11. It wasn’t all rosy for the Alabama resident, however, as he was Winnipeg’s runaway penalty leader and had to miss a week of practice to take care of a legal matter in Georgia.
The Bombers love his motor and his talent, though, which is why they inked him to a contract extension shortly after the 2010 season concluded.
Defensive line and assistant head coach Richard Harris, who reached out to Willis in the off-season, said the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder is maturing and the team can’t wait to see the finished product.
“I’m glad to see that he’s growing the way that he is and making adjustments, because he could be someone we could definitely work on building a defence around,” Harris said.
Willis can get in a funk now and again, but Harris noted with a laugh that “his recovery period right now is a lot shorter.”
Willis has a new role this year. He will be known as a “jack” in new defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke’s system, which means he will sometimes line up a linebacker or drop into coverage.
“Other than that,” Willis said, “it’s still rock ’n’ roll time.”
The 26-year-old, with his zeal to get after the quarterback, had a bad penchant for going offside last season. He said he’ll try to be more disciplined this year, but he feels offside penalties come with the territory.
“If I jump, I’m sorry, coach,” Willis said. “If I get a good jump and I get a sack, there’s not going to be fussin.’ It’s going to be, ‘Good job, Odell.’ So I’m just going to play within myself, and if it happens it happens. I’m sorry. Take the good with the bad. What great defensive end ain’t jumped offside?”
That, in a nutshell, is Odell Willis.
Not Clay Matthews.