INDIANAPOLIS — Safety Khari Willis, the Indianapolis Colts' fourth-round (109th-overall) pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, held his first media conference call on Saturday. What did he have to say about his game?
It looks like you have a strong locker room presence. How important is it to you to be a leader?
"I think that's very important. That's something I pride my hat on being a leader in the secondary. Trying to make everybody around me better is something that my dad instilled in me since I was playing point guard playing basketball at a young age. I think those kind of translated over as I developed into a defensive player, especially trying to be one of the top defenses in the country and now the top defense in the league. I am very excited to go and try to be a leader here in Indianapolis."
You were a running back in high school, right?
What was that transition like and how did they decide to do that?
"I played a little bit outside linebacker early on in high school and some of that film was on my running back highlight tape and it struck a few coaches across the county as me playing as a defensive player. Coach D (Mark Dantonio) was one of those guys. I knew coming in I was playing safety so I kind of made a transition in the offseason before I got there to Michigan State and then once I got there it was just about learning the defense. I was able to play early and have some success there. Coach D and the coaching staff always saw me as a defensive player."
Were there other schools that tried to recruit you as a running back?
"Yeah, all my other offers, every other school that recruited me, recruited me at running back except for Michigan State and Northwestern. Northwestern didn't offer, I committed soon to Michigan State."
So why did you choose to make the switch then?
"I think it was just because – honestly I fell in love with Michigan State and the way they sold the position to me. Me being able to naturally attack the ball, I could do that but I could also make plays on the ball as well. I felt like I could play early there and I felt like everything kind of worked out as I journeyed there."
Is there a certain mentality you need to play on defense? Did you find out that you had that?
"Definitely, I think I ran with that mentality if you watch my film from high school. I ran with a defensive mentality, I feel like. I feel like what we like to call the Spartan Dog mentality is something I adapted as a defensive player as well. I think that's just that underdog, not taking nothing from nobody, not give nobody nothing type of mentality – that's kind of where I grew up at and that's where I come from. That's kind of what I try to translate on the football field as well."
I am assuming you feel really confident with how your style of play will fit in with the scheme here.
"Sure. I definitely think what they'll ask me to do will be things to my strength. I love the defense, love the way they play, especially towards the end of the year as they really started getting the ball off people and playing hard and stuff like that. It's something that I am looking forward to and I know they got great guys in the secondary I can learn from."
What coverage did you primarily play at Michigan State?
"At Michigan State, we primarily played cover four, a lot of man-to-man and a little bit of three deep – three underneath, three deep zones."
For people that haven't seen you play, how would you describe your style as a safety?
"I think I am a sure-tackling safety that likes to play around the line of scrimmage, but can step out on the deep parts of the field and make plays. I feel like you are going to get somebody that's going to lead, be able to go down and guard people, press up on guys, as well as get guys, meet the backs one-on-one in the hole. I think I am versatile. I think I am well-rounded at the safety position. It's just a matter of when I am going to take off when I learn the system. I think you are getting a leader as well."
How much did you meet with the Colts during the draft process?
"I met with them – actually they were talking to my agent a lot and they were asking for a lot of medical things. So we kept an eye on that. I felt we talked throughout the process. I think they were at my pro day, we talked at the Senior Bowl, we talked at the combine and we have just been talking and getting to know each other. I am glad it turned out this way. Like I said, got a lot of family history with the Colts with my cousin playing there for so long."
Who is your cousin?
"My cousin is Billy Brooks the wide receiver."
Do you stay in contact with him much?
"Yeah. He has been talking to me, kind of mentoring me throughout this whole entire process. Just being with me, staying with me with everything. I know he is going to be excited. I am probably going to call him here shortly. He's still lives down in Indy, so I am sure that we will be in contact soon."
How much did he play a role in your development as a football player growing up?
"He played a big role. He always kind of talked to my dad about things."
The Colts traded up 20 spots to get you. What does that say to you?
"Yeah, it indicated that they wanted me and they wanted me early and they didn't want to take the chance of not getting me. That definitely shows on their part they have interest to trade up 20 spots to get me. I think that's a tremendous blessing and speaks to how they think of me. I think we think the same about each other. I think it's going to be a great career, a great relationship."
Takeaways are a huge emphasis of this defense. It seemed like you had your hands on the ball a lot. Is that something you consider a strength?
"Yeah, definitely. Definitely making plays on the ball when it's thrown my way or going to make a play when needed to be. I think in the big moments that's when those plays happen – third, fourth down, fourth quarter stuff like that. I think that's definitely one of my strengths."
How do you feel the Colts' scheme fits you with their use of safeties in dime packages? Is that an even bigger opportunity to get on the field early?
"Yeah, I think it fits me and suits me well. Just based on what they like to do (inaudible). Based on what they like to do playing in the dime packages and stuff like that. I think that will help me because at Michigan State I played nickel, I played in the box, I blitzed a lot off the edge, up the middle and did a lot of things like that. I think they saw that as well, saw my versatility and thought they could play me at one of those three spots."