Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool)
The Liberty Flames have already posted perhaps the best college football season in the history of the program, no matter what happens the rest of the 2020. The No. 22 Flames, led by former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and former Auburn quarterback Malik Willis, are now 8-0 after a 58-14 rout of Western Carolina on Saturday.
As has become customary this fall, Willis took center stage against the Catamounts. He passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 97 yards and two more scores in less than three full quarters of action.
Overall in 2020, the redshirt junior, dual-threat quarterback has accumulated 1,339 yards, 12 touchdowns and only one interception through the air, and another 603 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
— Liberty Football (@LibertyFootball) November 14, 2020
Liberty has already begun to shake up the college football landscape in only its third season at the FBS level. This year saw the Flames enter the top 25 for the first time ever and earn their first two wins against ACC opponents (Syracuse and Virginia Tech), and they’re one of only seven undefeated teams who have played more than four games.
The impact of Liberty’s rapid ascension to national relevance, combined with the school’s commitment to evangelical Christian principles, has even been felt in recruiting.
And much of Liberty’s success can be attributed to Willis’s playmaking ability on the field and leadership off of it. Willis, who originally committed to Auburn out of high school, transferred to Liberty soon after losing the starting job to Bo Nix during spring practice in 2019. He had two years of eligibility remaining.
When asked what lured Willis to a school like Liberty, he was quick to point to his faith.
“The environment, Christian school, I’m a strong believer in my faith. I’m a Christian,” Willis told ASeaOfRed.com in 2019. “The great offense that Coach Freeze brings, and just my teammates. They’re really loving and caring and all out here to compete. It’s a great place to be.”
🙏🏾THANK YOU GOD 🙏🏾 GLORY 2 GOD 🙏🏾 GODS PLAN 🙏🏾
— 〽alik 🌀 (@Willis_Malik7) November 8, 2020
Freeze asked his friend, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, about Willis before the transfer. Malzahn gave a glowing endorsement.
“Man, [Malzahn’s] first words to me were, ‘What an incredible kid he is. Great teammate and obviously a very good athlete,’” Freeze told reporters earlier this season. “[Malzahn’s] recommendation on him really gave me the green light to go on him.”
Upon his arrival at Liberty, Willis was quick to impress his new teammates and coaches with his positive spirit and dedication to film study.
“Even as an outsider, they opened their hearts and took me in as one of their own,” Willis wrote after last season. “The coaches at the school were genuine in their efforts to guide me towards maturing physically and spiritually.”
Willis was forced to sit out the 2019 season due to transfer rules and couldn’t attend the Flames’ road games. He admitted that he was often disheartened, but devoted himself to working hard and trusting in God’s good provision.
“As long as I work hard and lean on my faith in God, everything else will fall into place as it should,” Willis wrote. “It took me a long time to bring myself to that sort of mindset. But without those struggles, I would have never had a chance to earn this new opportunity.”
He continued later, “Maybe it was God’s way of forcing me to slow down and go back to the basics. Perhaps all of this was just His way of humbling me.”
Part of Willis’s Twitter bio says, “Glory to God” and the quarterback often expresses his thanks to God on social media for the position he’s in.
— 〽alik 🌀 (@Willis_Malik7) November 9, 2020
“Everything happens for a reason,” Willis told the Montgomery Advertiser last week. “God put me in this position for a reason. He’s not gonna give me anything I can’t handle.”
Willis will seek to carry that mentality with him next Saturday when he and his Flames teammates face another ACC foe, N.C. State, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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