Miami Hurricanes DL Gerald Willis heavier, leaner, ready for 2016

By Steve Gorten, Special to the Post

CORAL GABLES – A summer saturated with days spent running sprints has led to this for Hurricanes defensive lineman Gerald Willis: “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”

Willis, who weighed 270 pounds when he transferred from Florida to Miami last year, now registers 15 pounds heavier on the scale. And he’s added the weight, largely at the urging of defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, he said, by cutting his body fat from 30 percent to 20 percent.

In this image from a UM-produced video, defensive tackle Gerald Willis cools off during a practice. (YouTube)

In this image from a UM-produced video, defensive tackle Gerald Willis cools off during a practice. (YouTube)

That has made Kuligowski happy, Willis noted, and himself even more eager to finally play in a game. The 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore, who can play end and tackle, sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“It was tough last year seeing those guys out there playing, getting reps and making plays,” said Willis, who was named scout team defensive player of the week five times and was regularly praised by UM’s old coaching staff. “I was kind of upset, but by being away from football, I’m really excited now.”

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Willis had 14 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery as a freshman with the Gators in 2014. The hype surrounding him since he was a four-star recruit and high school All-American has many observers expecting big things from him now. Willis said he isn’t fazed by the expectations.

“I’m just ready,” he said. “I’m ready to prove to everybody I’m still here, that I can do what I know I can do.”

Defensive end Chad Thomas said Willis, who has been working mainly as a second-teamer, is still learning the new playbook but has made an impression.

“He’s looking good. I don’t know if y’all can see from here, but he’s making plays. He’s getting his plays down. He’s going to play this year,” Thomas said. “Gerald’s a dog. When he gets his stuff down, you can’t stop him.”

In the spring, five players spent time with the first team at tackle. Kuligowski has continued to rotate guys so far this fall in search of the right starters, Willis said. Sophomores RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton opened as the first-stringers.

Matt Porter contributed.

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