Gerald Willis taking leave of absence from Miami Hurricanes football

In this image from a UM-produced video, Gerald Willis beats Hayden Mahoney in a one-on-one drill.

In this image from a UM-produced video, Gerald Willis beats Hayden Mahoney in a one-on-one drill.

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Defensive tackle Gerald Willis will take “a leave of absence from the football program” and will not compete during the 2017 season, UM announced Thursday.

“Gerald remains part of the Miami family and may take part in designated team activities,” coach Mark Richt said in a press release.

The reason for Willis’ leave is not publicly known. A UM spokesperson did not elaborate on the school’s statement. A message to a close family member was not immediately returned.

Richt will address the media at the ACC Kickoff on Friday.

Willis, a redshirt junior from New Orleans, played in nine games last season as a reserve and put up 19 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks. He was a key reserve behind starting defensive tackles Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh, and was expected to fill the same role this fall along with senior Anthony Moten, sophomore Pat Bethel and incoming freshman Jon Ford. UM also has redshirt freshman Tyreic Martin and redshirt sophomore Ryan Fines for depth.

The Hurricanes lost another key depth tackle this offseason after senior-to-be Courtel Jenkins was dismissed for a violation of team rules. Jenkins surfaced at Houston, where former UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio recently took the same position.

Because of injuries and disciplinary issues, Willis, 21, has  had a rocky college career.

He was blue-chip recruit and Under Armour All-American who signed with Florida in 2014, then transferred UM after a freshman year that included at least two altercations with Gators teammates. In a 2015 interview, said he was “taking classes” to help overcome his “problems,” which he said included “a lack of communication.”

He sat out 2015 to satisfy NCAA transfer rules and drew praise from Miami’s former coaching staff. However, he was suspended for last year’s season-opener for a violation of team rules.

After that, knee trouble hampered his Hurricanes debut. He missed three games with an MCL injury sustained Oct. 8 against Florida State and had season-ending surgery before the Russell Athletic Bowl. He sat out this spring, but was expected to be healthy this fall.

Based on appearances, his latest issue appears to be a relatively recent development. On June 20, a little more than three weeks before UM’s announcement, Willis posted a video taken while he participated in the team’s annual photo and video shoots. He was wearing his usual uniform and No. 91 jersey.

Behind the scenes‼️ #RipAronHernandez 🎲💰💸 #OTB™

A post shared by OTB™ (@otb_gee) on

He also participated in at least one of the program’s summer community visits. The image below, of Willis dunking a basketball at a Coconut Grove elementary school, was taken June 2.

From Thursday's UM school visit: DT Gerald Willis (looking trimmer and fully bearded) scores off the bounce.

A post shared by Matt Porter (@mattyports) on

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