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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

NMCC back was the total package

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Remond Willis
NEW MADRID -- Every now and then, a special breed of athlete comes through Southeast Missouri. Somebody with all the tools it takes to dominate high school football. New Madrid County Central running back Remond Willis is one such athlete.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior led the Eagles on both sides of the ball this year, guiding his team to an 8-3 record and the Class 3, District 1 title.

"He basically carried the team on his shoulders," said NMCC coach Steve Rogers. "He was a great leader for us. I would hate to think what kind of season we would've had without him."

He became just the third 2,000-yard rusher in school history, finishing with 2,002 yards on 262 carries. He also scored 25 touchdowns.

"We gave him the ball quite a bit and he led us to some very impressive comeback wins," said Rogers. "He was really the main cog on our offense. I thought if he got 1,000 yards, it was going to be a good year. Getting 2,000 yards against the schedule we play is just phenomenal."

Willis seemed to top himself each week. In a season-opening loss to Jonesboro, Ark., he led the team with 98 yards on 21 carries.

Then his breakout game came in Week 2 against heavily-favored Cape Central. He rushed for 223 yards on 31 carries, scoring two touchdowns.

"That boy is good," said Cape Central coach Lawrence Brookins. "They beat us in the second game of the season, and at times, he was a man among boys. He's a big guy with good speed and he's a tough kid. You put those things together and he's a load."

In that game, Willis showed his ability to break tackles and out-run defenders, breaking off an 80-yard touchdown run. "I would say he's the best back we saw all year," said Brookins. "I'm just glad we saw him early and not later in the year when he really had things rolling."

Willis topped himself again in Week 3, rushing for 323 yards, 10 shy of the school record, and four touchdowns in a win over Farmington.

He scored four more touchdowns the next week in a blowout win over Charleston. He finished the game with 134 yards on just seven carries.

"I just follow my blocks and get what I can," said Willis. "I have to give a lot of credit to Steve Rogers and Arlen Pixley. Those guys pushed me in practice and in the weight room and got me bigger, faster and stronger."

In Week 5, he went head to head with Caruthersville's Jimmy Jackson in a battle between the top two rushers in Southeast Missouri.

NMCC lost the game, but both running backs lived up to the hype. Willis rushed for 156 yards on 28 carries while Jackson had 135 yards on 25 carries.

But the versatile Jackson had two receptions for 47 yards with the game-winning touchdown, further adding fuel to the much heated debate of who the better running back was.

The next week it looked like Willis had met his match as Sikeston held him to just 51 yards in the first half while taking a 25-7 lead.

But Willis showed his resolve and what kind of condition he was in as he exploded in the final two quarters, finishing with 249 yards on 40 carries to lead the Eagles to a 35-25 come from behind victory.

"A couple times we were right there and he slid off of us," said Sikeston coach Charlie Vickery. "He's an outstanding running back. He's big, strong and fast."

Willis' dominating season continued in Week 9 as he rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Breese Mater Dei (Ill.).

"He had a lot of good games," said Rogers. "He worked hard in practice and was a great person to be around. In our area, he was as good of a running back as there was. It was a pleasure coaching him."

In the first round of district play, NMCC traveled to Fredericktown. Willis rose to the challenge once again, rushing for 120 yards on 19 carries, scoring all three of his team's touchdowns.

"He's a game-changing player," said Fredericktown coach Kent Gibbs. "All of the really good backs have his physical tools. He's obviously strong, he's obviously fast and he's real tough. He has a pretty good stiff-arm too. A couple of our kids woke up with sore necks the next day."

The Eagles clinched the district title the next week with a win over Dexter. In that game Willis had 144 yards on 23 carries, scoring four touchdowns.

NMCC closed the regular season by beating Kennett. The Eagles struggled to win 10-7, but Willis still did his part, rushing for 138 yards on 16 carries.

The season came to an end last Wednesday with a loss to Ste. Genevieve in a Class 3 sectional playoff game.

While Dragons' standout Adam Schwent stole the show with 377 yards, Willis held his own, finishing with 177 yards on 25 carries.

"I think we saw two all-state running backs tonight," Coach Rogers said after the loss.

Willis has always been dependable, filling in wherever the team has needed him.

His freshman year, he was a backup to all-stater Dereke Tipler. He rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries, scoring two TDs on the season.

His sophomore year, the Eagles were a little thin on the line. He started on both offense and defense and was an all-conference lineman on a team that reached the state finals. He also carried the ball six times, gaining 33 yards.

"We lost a lineman that year, and somebody had to do it," said Willis.

His junior year, the Eagles' starting quarterback experienced a preseason injury. Willis filled in admirably, throwing for 631 yards on 43-of-107 passing. He also led the team in rushing with 891 yards on 140 carries.

The Eagles struggled as a team though, finishing with a record of 2-8. Rogers moved him to the backfield this season, a move Willis had been waiting for.

"I really liked moving back to running back," he said. "That was my spot all along. After being a utility player all those years, I finally got to run the ball as a senior."

And when Willis started running, few could stop him. He had the speed to run around you and the stiff-arm to run over you.

"I just picked it up on my own, trying to break tackles," said Willis. "It comes in handy."

Willis' ability on the offensive side of the ball often overshadow his defense. He was a team leader at the inside linebacker position, recording 68 tackles with five sacks, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

"Defense is mainly what I'm going to college for," noted Willis. "I think I'm a hard hitter and good in pass coverage."

Over the summer, Willis verbally committed to the University of Illinois. He took game film to a summer camp in Champaign and wowed the Illini coaches during a workout.

"I ran the 40 in a 4.39 and they offered me on the spot," said Willis. "They call me every Thursday. They told me they are going to try and play me on both sides of the ball, at tailback and at linebacker. I expect to play right away."

He will sign with the school in February.

"They've got like one win and nine losses right now, but that's going to change," said Willis. "They've got a really young team right now."

Rogers feels Willis has the tools to success in the Big Ten. "I think he's definitely a Division I caliber athlete," said Rogers. "He's 6-2, 220 and benches 350 pounds. He's got amazing quickness for a kid that size. He's also got great vision. He's a great kid. He's worked his butt off and he deserves everything he's getting."