NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In 2007, Tim Tebow took the nation by storm, not just by his play on the field, but also by the public display of his faith.
Sixteen years later, Titans quarterback Malik Willis is guided by that same faith, just a little quieter. Nevertheless, it’s the driving force behind everything he does.
“I mean, I kind of grew up that way,” said Willis. “Grandma [took] me to church and I wasn’t paying attention then, but you kind of grow up and you make it your own and you lean into that.”
It’s even the reason the Titans second year quarterback wears No. 7.
“I wear seven because that’s God’s number. That’s how many days it took to make the world,” he said.
Willis was born just south of Atlanta in College Park, Georgia, in the late 1990s. He grew up idolizing another number seven, Michael Vick.
He said being raised in Georgia’s largest city pushed him to fall in love with the game of football.
“I think football is big in Atlanta. Everybody’s playing football from a young age and I grew up around the time of Mike Vick. Mike Vick was still going and Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and all those guys, and we all looked up to them and we used to want to play like them.”
However, who Willis looks up to the most are his parents. You can always catch them on the sidelines at every game.
“They’ve been there from the start, just molding me, my brother, and my sister, making sure that we’re in all the right stuff and always had something to do and giving us that love and, you know, pushing us to go,” Willis said.
That push from his parents coupled with his strong faith has allowed him to face adversity and keep going.
He spent the entire offseason shaking off his rookie year and improving his game.
“Just his appearance, his attitude, smiling and just playing football,” said Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel during the team’s OTAs. “Playing quarterback in this league as a young player is something very different, and so I think that experience, that offseason has helped him, and then we’ll continue to work with him and improve.”
Willis signs off every social media post with the letters TGFE or “Thank God for Everything”. That’s also something he hopes to inspire in the youth. Willis spends a lot of his free time mentoring kids in the community.
“Because I was just one of them,” Willis said. “That always comes around and I think Lord put me in this position to glorify him and impact people in a positive way, so I try to do that.”
Willis and the Titans face the Cleveland Browns Sunday. Kickoff is set for noon.