Here is a nice USA Today write up on him;
Hardship toughened Willis for NFL's rigors
By Chris Colston, USA TODAY
In light of what Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis has been through in his young life, the rigors of the NFL should pose no major obstacle.
•When he was 4, his parents split.
•When he was 10, he occasionally worked in a cotton field to provide financial support for his family.
•When he was 16, his high school basketball
coach became his legal guardian because his father neglected his children and physically abused Patrick's younger siblings.
•When he was 21, his youngest brother, Detris, drowned while swimming with friends.
"My real-life experience has taught me how to compete through adversity, no matter what the situation was," Willis says.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. calls Willis, 22, "a tackling machine who is always around the ball."
NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang ranks Willis as the top linebacker in this year's draft. He believes Willis has a chance to go as high as No. 11 to the 49ers. And with the free agent loss of linebacker London Fletcher, Rang believes the Bills might take Willis with the 12th pick if he's available.
Adds NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, "He could go anywhere from No. 11 to No. 20. Whatever team drafts him will expect him to play immediately. He could step in and have 100 tackles."
Willis proved to everyone at the scouting combine that he's big (6-1, 242 pounds), fast (4.51 in the 40-yard dash) and explosive (39-inch vertical leap).
"For an inside linebacker," Rang says, "those numbers are pretty much unheard of. He's one of the fastest inside linebackers the combine has seen in a long time."
Mayock says Willis has "helped himself since the season ended. He had a real good Senior Bowl week and put an exclamation point on the end of it with his combine performance."
And any team would have to love Willis' grit and determination.
At tiny Central (Bruceton, Tenn.) High School, he earned Class A Mr. Football honors but didn't garner a lot of attention.
"I wasn't really recruited at all," Willis says. "I can't really say that any of the big schools offered me anything other than Ole Miss, Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State.
"A lot of people didn't give me a chance to ever get to a conference like the SEC or even college football, period."
He recalls signing his letter-of-intent to receive a free college education as "the proudest moment of my life."
Willis did not become a starter for the Rebels until his junior year. Over the course of that season, he played with a multitude of injuries: a broken middle finger, a torn medial collateral ligament, a broken bone in his foot and a separated right shoulder. Yet he still led the nation with 90 solo tackles.
"It was kind of tough at first," he says. "The separated shoulder wasn't too bad. That's football.
"But in the second game of the year, against Vanderbilt, a guy hit me inside my knee. The first thing that popped in my head was, 'I hope it's not my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).' I didn't even know there was such a thing as an MCL. My knee kept wobbling. I asked, 'What can we do?' Other than surgery, there wasn't much you could do. So I told them to wrap it up. I wanted to go back out and play."
He was projected as a third-round pick for the 2006 draft, so he returned for his senior year. That was a wise decision; in 2006 he had 137 tackles, was an All-American, was named Southeastern Conference defensive player
of the year and won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
"He's been like a coach on the field for us," Mississippi coach Ed Orgeron says. "Patrick leads by example. He is not a big talker. He just gets in there and does his job every day and makes everybody around him better. There will never be another Patrick Willis."
The knock on Willis, according to some, is that he's a two-down player who possesses limited pass-coverage skills. Some scouts believe he's slow to recognize developing routes and does not anticipate the pass well.
"He's gotten a bad rap on that," Rang says. "Any inside linebacker gets tagged that way, because of the position. If you're on the outside, you can jam the tight end or wide receiver at the line of scrimmage. As a middle linebacker, you've got guys coming at you full speed. So it's a little unfair to judge any middle linebacker on pass coverage.
"I think people bring that up because it's the only negative thing they can say about him. But his speed shows he has the wheels to do it, and he's an instinctive player. … Because of his speed and instincts for the game, he should flourish in any Cover 2 scheme."
Says Willis, "All I would like to say is that I'm an all-around linebacker. I can play middle, I can play outside, wherever they need me to play in a 3-4.
"The first two years in college I played outside linebacker, covered some slot receivers. I'd say I'm confident in my abilities, but anything I need to do I'll work on and do my best to get the job done."
Considering what he's been through, that doesn't seem like an idle boast.
When Willis was in high school, his sister, Ernicka, went to a guidance counselor to report physical abuse from her father. The school superintendent contacted Tennessee child services, and the four children went to live with Chris and Julie Finley. Chris taught math and was Patrick's basketball coach; Julie taught fifth grade. When caring for four kids became too much for the Finleys, Patrick and his brother Orey stayed with them; Ernicka and Detris went to a foster home.
Patrick dedicated his senior season to Detris, a high school linebacker himself.
"I've been through a tough road," Willis says. "But I knew, no matter what, if someone knocks you down, you have to find a way to get up and get the job done. That's what you have to do."
Says Rang, "From everybody I've talked to, his character rating is off the charts."
Mayock believes that's why Willis' stock is on the rise. "If you look at the teams that are winning Super Bowls — the Patriots, Eagles, Steelers, Colts (editor's note: the Eagles reached Super Bowl XXXIX but lost) — character, for the most part, does come into play when they draft," he says. "More and more teams are going that way, especially in the first round when you're paying major dollars for a player.
"For a kid like (Willis), it's going to help him, no question."
Through it all, playing football provided a respite for Willis. "I love the game of football; I really do," he says. "It's almost like an addiction. I can't do without it.
"If I do get a little tired, I think about my younger siblings and what I want to do for them and my family. I don't want my kids to go through what we went through."
Rang believes that while Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams could post 10 sacks as a rookie, Willis will have a bigger impact.
"And it's rare to say that for an inside linebacker," Rang says. "The way the game is played now, the outside linebackers are turned loose as pass rushers and rack up the most impressive stats. But this kid could walk in and instantly be his team's leading tackler and best defensive player. In a lot of ways, he looks like the perfect player."