Pony Down

Quarterback Justin Willis rides a rocky road at SMU that detours into a demotion

Maybe it's his personality.

Spend a half-hour with Willis and it's obvious he's a bright, polite kid. But team leaders who bounce on and off the roster because of rules violations apparently aren't part of Jones' grand plan.

"When I became the starting quarterback I didn't know the first thing about talking to 22-year-olds, much less leading them," said Willis, dressed in a black T-shirt and shorts adorned with a silver "#16" necklace. "Mentally I just wasn't prepared to handle some situations."

Justin Willis is, by far, SMU's most athletic, most experienced quarterback. But new head coach June Jones has decided to bench Willis for the season opener and maybe longer.
Morrey Taylor
Justin Willis is, by far, SMU's most athletic, most experienced quarterback. But new head coach June Jones has decided to bench Willis for the season opener and maybe longer.

For example, a stalker.

In October 2006 Willis was suspended from the team for a week after punching a male student during an off-campus altercation. Willis said the student, whom he didn't know, constantly showed up at school and team functions and wrote about their supposed "relationship" in Internet forums. Willis said he apprised then-coach Phil Bennett of the situation, but no action was taken.

"I had nothing to do with that guy but he was out there slandering my name and following me around," Willis said. "Coach Bennett didn't think it was serious enough to address, so unfortunately I had to take things into my own hands. It wasn't the right thing to do, but I hope people understand why I had to do it. It worked. The guy finally stopped bugging me."

Last February Willis was suspended again, this time by Jones for faltering academics and skipping team functions. He missed spring practice—back when Mitchell and Smith were preparing for their proms—at a time when he should've been cementing his role as No. 1 quarterback and team leader.

He was reinstated in May, but may never be fully back.

"It absolutely killed me," Willis said. "I'd sneak in the stadium during the spring and watch them practice without me."

Now, in a demotion that shocks him, SMU fans and likely all of college football, Willis has to watch his team play without him.

June cometh!

Justin gone.

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