QB Willis, Ansbach make smooth transition to D- II
October 11, 2007
For a brief moment this fall, Ansbach quarterback John Willis was worried about his team’s move from Division III to Division II this season.
“I heard about the move right after football camp (in August),” Willis said during a Tuesday practice. “I was nervous at first about going up to Division II, but after I saw the team we had, I knew we’d be all right.”
“All right” hardly begins to cover what Ansbach has achieved halfway through its first season at the next level. The Cougars, with Willis as the starter for the third straight season, clinched the Division II-South championship Saturday with a 52-15 victory at Aviano.
Although Ansbach enrolls about 200 students — compared to 399 and 370 for conference rivals Patch and Vilseck, respectively — the Cougars are 4-0 and league champs with two regular-season games to go. Already assured of a home game for the European D-II semifinals, the Cougars have posted an average margin of victory of 28 points.
“It didn’t seem like Division II,” the 6-foot, 200-pound Willis said of his team’s first forays among the bigger schools, “but it has been tougher.”
Willis says the defenses are tougher, although the stat sheets don’t show it.
Last season, Willis rushed 41 times for 394 yards (9.6 yards per carry) and completed 35 of 57 passes for eight touchdowns and just one interception in D-III. So far this year, he has run 21 times for 167 yards (7.95 yards per carry) and is 19-for-33 for 237 yards passing with three TDs and one interception.
Not coincidentally, Ansbach’s latest winning streak has reached 12 games.
“Continuity is the key to it,” head coach Marcus George said Tuesday of his program, which is 42-2 since 2001.
“Others have numbers, we have experience. When you’re only half the size of the other schools, it makes a difference that our people know our system.”
Willis, who began playing football as a freshman and stepped into the starter’s job as a sophomore, cited Ansbach’s core talent as the difference.
“Guys like me and Xavier (All-Europe running back Sheppard) have been together since seventh grade,” he said. “We can do a lot of things blindfolded.”
Willis is a good example of the unusual-for-DODDS length of tours in Ansbach, according to George.
“We’ve only had three quarterbacks in seven years,” George said. “Folks love Ansbach. A lot of them extend to stay here.”
Willis, who is the European bronze medalist in the 110-meter high hurdles and an outfielder who’d like to resume his baseball career in college, is one of those Ansbach-lovers.
“It was great to be over here and play for Coach George,” he said. “All the seniors talk about how we don’t want to leave Ansbach.”