GOODMAN, Miss. (BVM) – While Damion Willis may not be as recognizable as some of his East Mississippi Community College teammates featured on the Netflix hit documentary series “Last Chance U.” Despite his lack of screen time on the show, Willis was able to use the JUCO program to help him with his playing career and his path after his playing days. While EMCC plays a big role in understanding Willis’ journey, he is not defined by the program and instead was able to become one of the more successful players featured on the show.
Willis’ football journey began at Southeast Lauderdale High School in Meridian, Mississippi. An excellent receiver, Willis would record three straight 1,000 yard seasons for the Tigers including catching 48 passes for 1,154 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. This performance earned Willis Mississippi High School Athletic Association Class 3A all-state first team honors.
Despite his success at the high school level, Willis would not go to a major college but rather go the junior college route and join the EMCC Lions. Of course, this is where Willis would not only find success but also be featured in “Last Chance U.”
— Damion Willis (@Willis_dakid15) December 5, 2016
After catching just four passes for 71 yards as a freshman, Willis would explode during his sophomore year in 2016, leading the Lions with 620 receiving yards and an 18.2 yards-per-catch average and finishing the season with 34 receptions and six touchdowns for an 11-1 team that finished ranked No. 2 in the nation in the National Junior College Athletic Association rankings and was featured in the second season of the Netflix program.
Following the season, Willis would commit to Division I Troy University of the Sun Belt Conference. During his time in Troy, Willis would become one of the team’s key contributors.
— Damion Willis (@Willis_dakid15) November 20, 2016
Under head coach Neal Brown, Willis would help the Trojans reach incredible highs including knocking off ranked Louisiana State in Death Valley, beating Big 10 Conference member Nebraska on the road, and winning back-to-back bowl games in 2017 and 2018. Individually, Willis would finish his Troy career with 98 receptions, 1,496 yards and 13 touchdowns in 24 games. His senior season would be his best as he would haul in 56 receptions for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns on his way to All-Sun Belt first-team honors.
After graduating from Troy in the spring of 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, Willis would be signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals following the 2019 NFL Draft. As a rookie with the Bengals, Willis would play in 10 games with two starts where he recorded nine catches for 82 yards.
Willis would go on to play for the Bengals, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants, the Washington Football Team and the Pittsburgh Steelers before being released by Pittsburgh on January 7.
Later that month, Willis would join the staff at Holmes Community College in Goodman as an offensive assistant and wide receiver coach where he would reunite with former EMCC offensive coordinator Marcus Wood, who took over the program as head coach in November.
While this will be the first coaching experience of Willis’ young life, given his personal journey in the game of football he will be able to relate to the players he will be mentoring. Having been through the difficulties of junior college life, transferring, Division I football and the NFL, Willis has a wealth of knowledge that he can bestow on the young men he will be coaching which should pay dividends for them and the team as a whole.
Though Willis is now years removed from his time on the Lions and “Last Chance U,” it is clear that he used his last chance well, being able to turn it into a successful football career and to begin another career as a coach. With his experiences and knowledge of the game, expect Willis’ name to be a hot one around coaching circles in the future.