Wills signed by Jets, fulfills NFL dream

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Jeff Wills was facing an uncertain future. The Queens native went undrafted out of the University of Minnesota and, with the NFL lockout, had no idea what his future would be in football.

Wills, a 6-foot-7, 350-pound offensive tackle, was pursuing multiple opportunities in the business field and also taking an online class to complete his bachelor’s degree in business and marketing. Though he was still working out with renowned trainer Joe DeFranco in Wyckoff, N.J., the commute from Laurelton was getting expensive without any income.

“The lockout was draining,” Wills said. “It was mentally and emotionally draining for everybody.”

The light at the end of the tunnel came last week when the lockout ended. And last Thursday, the New York Jets, Wills’ favorite team growing up, signed him as an undrafted free agent.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime,” said Wills, 22. “It would definitely mean a lot to me to just be called a professional football player, a professional athlete.”

If Wills makes the team, he’ll be the first player from Campus Magnet HS to play in the NFL, according to school Coach Eric Barnett. Wills, Barnett said, wasn’t a lock to get to this point, but he worked hard, attended Lackawanna Junior College for two years to get his grades right and he started every single game at right tackle for Minnesota.

Despite his size — Wills wore a size 21 cleat in high school, Barnett said — the coach says he was an underdog, kind of like the Bulldogs program as a whole.

“I think he embodies what our program is all about,” Barnett said. “If he makes the team, I’m gonna get up on the highest mountain and let everybody know. Just making the team would make us happy, then he can go from there. I feel like he can be a starter. He has that type of drive.”

Wills also worked out after the college season with Jim Garrett, father of Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett. The Jets, he said, went to the Minnesota pro day and he attended their regional workout. DeFranco also has connections with the team and he knows Jets personnel people saw an online video of him pulling a 1,200-pound sled. He’ll start training camp with Gang Green on Sunday.

“I’m excited to challenge myself against one of the best defenses in the NFL,” Wills said.

Wills was disappointed he wasn’t drafted in June. But now none of that matters. The online class is on hold and those feelers he sent out to companies will have to wait. Wills has a chance to make an NFL team.

“It’s not how you get there,” he said. “It’s what you do when you’re there.”

Updated 11:09 am, October 12, 2011
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