Carver Willis traveled to some of the biggest college football schools in the surrounding states over the last year for camps and official visits. Through all the trips, he felt a special connection with Kansas State University.
So when Willis, who will be a senior at Durango High School this fall, wanted to verbally commit to a college this summer before turning his entire focus onto his final year in a Demons uniform, he felt strong about the Wildcats in Manahattan, Kansas, and his chance to play Division I college football in the Big 12 Conference.
“The people there are amazing. They have a great new coaching staff, and it’s obviously a good program with a lot of upside,” the 6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive lineman said. “What really sold me was the coaches and atmosphere of the overall town.”
During the 2019 season, Chris Klieman will take over the Kansas State sideline in place of Bill Snyder, who coached the Wildcats from 1989-2005 and again from 2009-2018. The College Football Hall of Fame coach is still a special ambassador at Kansas State, and Willis was able to meet him during a visit last season.
The son of Brett and Gretchen Willis had in-state offers from Colorado State University and University of Northern Colorado. He also had offers from Kansas, New Mexico State and Wyoming.
As an offensive tackle, Willis helped pave the way for a monster season for Dawson Marcum last year, as the running back rushed for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also was the blindside protector for quarterback Jordan Woolverton, who threw for 1,560 yards and 14 touchdowns. For his effort, Willis was named to the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A All-State honorable mention list.
Willis also made an impact at nose guard.
“They always say that they’ll find talent, even in a small town like Durango,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “If you’re good enough, they’re going to find you. Willis is good enough, and they found him.”
Willis had to get out of Durango to get recruited, though. He has spent the last three years attending camps at various colleges as well as talent combines for linemen. That helped him gain offers.
“For me, the recruiting process was stressful but really fun at the same time,” he said. “It started when I went to those initial camps when I was going to be a junior. I started getting some looks and recognition, and teams wanted me to come back. I realized at that point that I had an opportunity.
“You just have to have the confidence that you have the ability you can be there. Being in Durango, you’re not going to get too many Division I looks. You have to get on their campus, meet coaches, prove yourself against higher competition and give them a reason to look at you.”
Vogt said it was Willis’ work ethic that led to his ascension the last couple of years. Willis didn’t begin playing offensive line until his sophomore season, and he put in the work in the weight room as well as the field to sharpen his technique.
He credits Durango offensive line coach Mike Sutter for his development, too.
“With our new O-line coach, I’ve grown exponentially,” Willis said. “I was a first-time lineman and didn’t know anything at all. He has been incredible for me throughout this process.”
Willis won’t be the only member of his family involved with college football. His older sister Kayla played football through her sophomore year at DHS before she transitioned into stadium announcing during home games and radio broadcast work at road games. She will attend Texas Tech next fall and begin work with the communications and media department of the Red Raiders and eventually aims to transition into doing sideline work.
“My dad grew up in Indonesia and didn’t get a chance to play football,” Willis said.
“But I’ve always had football competition with my sister, and it was always fun. We had a great football experience growing up.”
Willis is eager to begin his senior season of high school without the pressures of talking to multiple college coaches on a daily basis. He believes the Demons can improve on their 6-5 overall record from a year ago and push deep into the Class 3A state playoffs with him helping push the team down the field.
Vogt said the big man has taken a leadership role, coaching the young players as young as fifth grade.
“He is that person everybody is looking up to,” Vogt said. “He’s doing a great job, and he just loves the game and giving back.”
It’s that love of the game that has fueled Willis to the top level of college football.
“I love to play the game,” he said.
“The biggest thing is loving football and always wanting to come back and play.”