Devin Willock: His surgical scooter ride to becoming a Georgia Bulldog
Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. This entry covers the ripples in college football which created the trail for Devin Willock to sign with a true dream school: The Georgia Bulldogs.
The Devin Willock to Georgia story starts with a picture. It is a visual of a surgical scooter, Matt Luke and a nearly 6-foot-7 and 345-pound future bulldozer for his O-line.
Words will not do it justice.
Check out the picture below. The visual validates Willock (sounds like WIL-LOCK) as the biggest (and likely first) official visitor to Georgia who was in need of a surgical scooter.
He took his official visit on that scooter. He had to because of a delicate surgery to repair a season-ending injury. It cannot be confirmed if the UGA staff played “Roll Out” by Ludarcis during his photo shoot.
“So I rolled around campus,” Willock said.
Willock actually broke the first scooter he had. It buckled. Of course it did. Some called it a “knee wheeler” instead of a scooter.
“When the coaches at Georgia saw me rolling around on my visit, they said it was definitely different than anything they had experienced on a visit before,” he said. “They were still in good spirits about it and said they were just glad that I made the trip and everything.”
The 3-star prospect signed with Georgia in simpler times during the early period. He rated for the 2020 class as the nation’s No. 70 offensive tackle and the No. 906 overall prospect on the 247Sports Composite ratings.
There is some flexibility as to where he might eventually line up.
“I committed to be a ‘Dawg,” Willock said back in December. “Whether it is a guard or a tackle. Coach [Matt] Luke is a great guy. A real genuine guy that I know is going to coach me up well. He has great past success with his players and I’m just going to be another star in the making.”
Where’s the place to start here?
- He’s strong now. Willock went from scooter to walking boot to crutches to now full weight support drills. This all came about after two injuries which should have ended his senior season. He tried to play through it, though. The second malady came in the final minutes of his last game. Yet with that, he now feels it all happened for the best possible reason.
- What about the Sam Pittman move? If Pittman doesn’t bolt for Arkansas, then he’s not a Georgia Bulldog signee in the 2020 class. It is just that simple.
- It took more than that: It took Pittman leaving and longtime commit Joshua Braun deciding he didn’t want to get to know Luke in record time. When Braun de-committed from UGA to stay close to home at Florida, it opened up a spot for Willock.
- Willock loved UGA back during the summer. He had an offer, but it was not committable. What would’ve happened if he could commit back in June of 2019? “Well, then I’m pretty sure that you and I are having this conversation about me going to Georgia in June or July,” Willock said in December. “And not right now right before the early signing period.”
- A beloved uncle actually lives in Gainesville. For those that wonder about other links to UGA from North Jersey, there was one here. It was the same uncle who helped him shape his varsity football career. It was the move to powerful Paramus Catholic. Georgia had been his “dream school” option for the last two years of high school. At least.
- How is Georgia closer to New Jersey than Pennsylvania? That also played a part in his unique recruiting story.
Those are all worthy green lights which would keep this rolling along, but it makes a little more sense to learn where Willock comes from. Those elements led the one-time Penn State commit to Georgia.
Devin Willock: Forged at Paramus Catholic
The short-term memory roll call of Paramus Catholic alumni is stout: There’s a pair of NFL first-round picks in former Michigan Wolverines Rashan Gary and Jabrill Peppers.
The feeling up there is the South has an edge because they don’t hold spring practices up there. There are also no junior colleges to develop those players which need just a bit more academically or athletically coming out of high school.
There are very few high schools in America which have had two former players picked in the first round in the NFL draft over the last five years. Paramus can.
That’s where Willock comes from. The last few seasons might have been a struggle, but the Paladins are still sending players to the Boston Colleges and Michigans, among others.
“We’ve had good athletes here,” Paramus Catholic head coach John Whitehead said. “We’ve had good players. Very good players. We have kids in the NFL but Devin doesn’t take a back seat to any of those kids and we have kids starting right now in the NFL.”
Willock transferred to Paramus in the summer before his junior year. He was pudgy. Still carried some baby fat. Yet he was plugged in to play both ways at defensive tackle and on the offensive line for Paramus.
He’d been in the program for only a year, but he was named a captain for the 2019 team. That was rare, but it was deserved.
“Really good kid off the field,” Whitehead said. “Very soft spoken. Very well mannered. Comes from a really good family. Both parents are very great people. Very personable. Quiet. Hard working.”
Whitehead rolled off all the reasons why recruiters were interested in Willock. Aside from that massive frame and size 16 cleats. Paramus had a player who was almost as tall as Willock about 15 years ago. He went off to Florida State.
Willock has bigger everything: Calves. Feet. Frame. Hands. Legs. Shoulders. The Paladins run a lot. It meant that most of that baby fat melted away after his first year in the program.
Whitehead describes him as a tireless worker.
“Doesn’t go to treatment,” Whitehead said. “Doesn’t go to the trainer. Doesn’t miss practice. Doesn’t miss a lift. Doesn’t miss a run. Doesn’t miss a film session. He’s got everything.”
“I wouldn’t have one negative thing to say about the kid.”
Willock’s family is from both Antigua and Barbados. He is the youngest of three brothers. They all played high school football, but they didn’t have the size he has.
“He’s a laid back cat,” Whitehead said. “Doesn’t get into any trouble or craziness. Devin would rather sit on the porch and watch the traffic go by. Devin is like an old soul. He’s an old soul. He’s not a party guy. He’s not into all of that. Very laid-back kid. Not going to go out and be skylarking at night. He’s not like that.”
Willock might be a homebody. But with good reason. He lost his older brother, Johnathan Willock, to a tragedy. It started with being out too late and a car accident.
“It was an accident with a drunk driver but the accident didn’t kill him,” Willock said. “It was the infections afterwards. He actually survived the accident, but it was infections from the accident which set in two or maybe three weeks after that.”
He lost his older brother. Willock competes in his memory. He describes him as not being that big. He was 6 feet, 4 inches and 275 pounds. Most of us can only laugh at that statement.
But his oldest brother was probably the most athletic of the Willock brothers. He was 13 years older than Devin. That fateful accident happened 11 years age. He was just seven years old.
The Willocks believe that if you’re home, then you are home. There’s no going out to meet friends at the club after midnight. They keep their circle tight and don’t follow the crowd.
His middle brother, Dave Willock Jr., has also helped him out a great deal with football. He did play in college at the Division II level.
“I want to make it for my family,” Willock said. “For my family and the sacrifices they made for me. Even my brothers. The sacrifices that they have made for me is ridiculous. They put a lot of time into shaping me throughout this whole process. I’d be wrong to not try to ensure that it all pays off by doing my part.”
Devin Willock: His greatest strength is his attitude
Whitehead said he feels Willock can be a left tackle at UGA. That will be very hard to do at Georgia. The Bulldogs signed three All-American tackles in his class who all rated higher than him on the rankings, but that’s the type of program he’s now a part of.
It will not deter him. His greatest strength? It has to be his attitude. When the Paladins did conditioning runs, he would always finish first or second among the linemen.
That’s even though he had at least 30-40 pounds on everyone in that conditioning group.
“I’ve never had to worry about him,” Whitehead said. “Ever. In class he has all AP and honors classes. Sometimes he goes for extra help and stuff. The teachers like him. He’s been a gem.”
“Devin is the last kid on the roster I would have to worry about. Don’t have to worry about him at all. About anything.”
That was until the game gave him something to worry about. That was the injury which led to that surgical scooter.
“It was originally a sprained ankle on my right foot,” Willock said. “It happened a week before my actual real injury.”
It was a bad sprain. The sort that forced him to play right guard in his last game. Not left tackle. He wasn’t really fit to play and missed the team’s first playoff game.
“I had to try to play our second playoff game,” he said. “Just to give us a chance.”
Willock estimated he was probably at 70-to-75 percent when he suited up. He couldn’t push off that right ankle at all.
But he was that guy who never missed. Anything. He never missed any practice or workout time that week for treatment of that sprain. He only missed the last two minutes of his last game.
It was a fluke. An opposing player was trying to make a tackle. He missed. He struck Willock’s ankle with the full force of his body.
“The next injury was a snapped fibula and a dislocated ankle on my left foot,” Willock said. “It required an open reduction surgery.”
When Willock describes it, he likens it to the procedure that Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa had performed on his ankle during the 2018 season.
“There are nine screws in it,” Willock said. “Then there is a metal plate dow the side of my ankle holding it together.”
Willock will always have those screws and that plate in his ankle.
“It definitely changed a lot of things,” he said. “Like from the injury itself I learned you never know what can happen. You can’t play the game thinking you are always going to be safe or injury-free. Accidents happen. You have to go out there every day every practice and every rep it has to be 100 percent. That’s because you never know when it can be taken away from you.”
He lost weight from 355 down to 333 with the injury and surgery and immobilization, but kept working his upper body. His torso changed. He was rebuilding it with muscle. His weight rose back up to 345 pounds.
“I don’t know how long my recovery is supposed to be, but I think I’m ahead of schedule with how I’m feeling,” he said back on February 22. “I expect it to feel stiff or my muscles to be stiff or still as I was progressing but I feel awesome.”
When he looks at it all now, he feels like it will aid his career. He never trained the way he does now prior to that injury.
“During my PT coming back I realized how off and how bad my balance was,” he said. “I realize there was so much I could work on with my training for my legs than just normal squats. If I really look at fundamental lifts and working on more core and my balance, it is definitely going to pay off. If I would have never had this injury, I would never have started to learn to focus on training different parts of my body.”
The road from Penn State to Georgia for Devin Willock
It makes sense to turn the clock back to second week of December in 2019.
It was a whirlwind for Willock.
Heading home this weekend! 💙🏠 pic.twitter.com/eMVYaH4bkm
— Devin Willock (@DevinWillock) December 9, 2019
The week began with him touting the fact he was set to take an official visit to Penn State. He committed to the Nittany Lions back on Sept. 1, 2019.
“When I flipped away from taking that visit to Penn State and taking that visit instead to Georgia, I went down there knowing that I was definitely committing,” Willock said. “As soon as I made that phone call to coach [Kirby] Smart saying I was coming down for an official, I knew that I was committing during that time.”
The timelines hit like Class V rapids here:
- Sam Pittman was announced as the head coach at Arkansas on Dec. 9
- Joshua Braun de-committed from Georgia on Dec. 11.
- Willock de-committed from Penn State on Dec. 12 and took his official to UGA on Dec. 13.
- The Paramus standout committed to UGA on Dec. 15 and signed with the program on Dec. 18.
“The first time I went down there I loved Georgia,” Willock said of his two summer visits. “They were always my dream school, but they weren’t quite sold on me. I was late for them basically. They had other guys they were looking at. I had to do the waiting game.”
“I basically had gotten offered, but it wasn’t really committable at the time. Penn State was always a great option there for me all the way to the process. I felt comfortable going up to them in July and stated to think about going there. I started to see myself there.”
The opportunity came about. James Coley and Matt Luke worked fast there. They wanted to add him to the class with the departure of Braun.
Georgia was also preparing itself to lose up to four offensive linemen to the NFL. They didn’t lose all four, but it worked out for the greater good especially after Cade Mays opted to transfer to SEC East rival Tennessee.
“One factor that worked in Georgia’s favor was how well the program has done in getting bigger guys like me ready to play in the SEC and to be noticed by the NFL,” Willock said. “Just how my body type fits. Georgia has done great developing Isaiah Wilson. Solomon Kindley was up there. I knew I could fit into a program that is used to taking bigger guys and molding them down to what they want them to be versus me going to a school that usually tends to get the leanest 300-pound guys. It was that versus a heavy run game school at Georgia that makes it go with bigger guys.”
When the Georgia offer became committable, it gave the future civil engineer a lot to think about. Quickly. He termed it a “very hard decision to make” because of the relationships he had built with Penn State’s staff and the 2020 recruiting class.
Quick geography: Why UGA felt closer than College Station
He plays football for his family. Willock made a promise to his loved ones when he was in the sixth grade that they were not going to have to pay for his college education.
“Folks say I have this rare once-in-a-lifetime type size for the teams I played for growing up,” he said. “But I didn’t want to depend on my size. I wanted to put the same work in and then even more work. The same as any other Division One player is going to do.”
“I have the size to be an NFL-caliber talent, but I am going to make sure the reason I make the NFL is my work ethic. Not my size.”
Family was a big factor in his decision.
“What made the flip happen for real?” he said. “It was more of a family thing or a personal thing. Penn State has always been a great place. They’ve never done anything but right by me, but it wasn’t comfortable for my whole family and that’s a very big thing to me.”
Willock said his father has vision issues. He suffers from glaucoma. He isn’t supposed to be driving long distances. There were also potential issues with backroads and weather elements like snow.
“Penn State was not easily accessible because we had to drive there,” Devin Willock said. “There are no flights. No easily accessible airports. So it was kind of like a hassle.”
He estimates it was a four-hour trip to reach Penn State from his home in New Jersey. That’s 237 miles and yet somehow it seemed easier to cover the 822 miles from Paramus to Athens.
“I have family down in Georgia and after you take the hour and a half flight down to Atlanta it is not really too much of a drive to get to the stadium and to get to campus,” he said. “That factor there played a big role here in making this change.”
The commute to UGA was about 90 minutes by air and another 90 minutes by car. Depending on the Atlanta rush hours. The Willocks also have family in Gainesville.
“The commute was even to me but to my family it was going to be better for them” Willock said. “Just like our personal situation. How do we get there? How do they get to visit me and stuff like that? I want to be able to reach my family when needed because I think of myself as a very home-based guy. I love to be around my family and my people.”
Penn State was going to be harder for his family to reach him. There was that four-hour drive.
“That was in comparison to them taking an hour-and-a-half flight,” he said. “Then driving and then staying with my family in Gainesville which is 45 minutes from campus and being able to visit me often.”
Those family members in Gainesville are also big Georgia fans.
Willock feels he can be a guard or tackle at UGA. That means the skill set to shadow the speed rushers on the edge plus the power to hold back the big guys in the middle.
Warren McClendon and Xavier Truss hosted him on his official visit to UGA, but he wasn’t quite as big as the 6-foot-7 Truss. He was right there with him.
He was planning to graduate on June 1 from Paramus and then report to UGA on June 2. That was before the COVID-19 outbreaks across our nation.
“Looking at it it was the best move I have ever made,” Devin Willock said. “At first the original regret was that I lost all the relationships with the recruits I had bonded with from Penn State. But now I look at is as making this move opened up a door that I never expected to have. We definitely have the talent in our class to contend for a title within the next three or four years for sure. Who knows what can happen at Georgia even in the first two years?”
Check out his senior film below.