Malcolm Willis was in Columbus for Ohio State’s spring football game a couple of weekends ago when Indian Head, Md., Lackey teammate and close friend Darrell Givens gave the Buckeyes a verbal commitment.
At the time, Givens tried to talk Willis into waiting for Ohio State to offer him a scholarship so they could stay together. Willis, though, was already thinking of going somewhere else.
In fact, they’ll be on opposite sidelines in college. On Monday Willis, a 6-foot-0, 208-pound safety, committed to the Buckeyes’ rival, Penn State.
He is the Nittany Lions’ second recruit for 2009.
“He [Givens] called me to congratulate me as soon as he heard,’’ Willis said. “He said, ’Let’s take over the Big Ten.’’’
It’s not out of the question that they could do just that. Givens is considered one of the top cornerback prospects in the Mid-Atlantic region. Willis has flown more under the recruiting radar than his friend, but he made more than 70 tackles and had three interceptions — one of which he returned for a touchdown — from the free safety position last year as the Chargers went 10-3.
Willis, who possesses 4.6 speed to go along with a chiseled frame, grew up idolizing Sean Taylor and patterns his play after the late Redskins All-Pro. Lackey coach Doug Lamb said Willis’ style is reminiscent of another all-time great.
“I’d compare him to a guy like Ronnie Lott,’’ Lamb said. “He’s a great tackler. His greatest strength is understanding the reads on our defense. Athletically, he’s just as gifted.’’
The Nittany Lions were the only school to make a scholarship offer to Willis by the time he committed. While that surprised Lamb, Willis said that was one of the things that sold him on Penn State.
“They were the first to offer. They knew what they wanted,’’ Willis said. “A lot of schools will wait until after they see other schools offer. I appreciated that they believed in me.’’
Willis said Illinois, Michigan State and Rutgers also told him they would be making offers shortly. However, with representatives from the Illini and Spartans as well as Penn State assistant Larry Johnson at Lackey on Monday, Willis felt the time was right to commit.
Willis, who also plays quarterback and basketball, is the second recent Lion recruit from Lackey. J.B. Walton is currently a sophomore lineman at Penn State; Walton’s dad coached Willis in peewee football.
“I talk to J.B. off and on,’’ Willis said. “He comes down here sometimes and I’ll run into him lifting weights. I talk to him and A.J. Wallace.’’
Willis has a 3.7 grade point average in his core courses.