Interview with Toby Willis
by Reid Althage
LAFM: State your name and current affiliation with McNeese State?
My name is Toby Willis, and I am a graduate assistant for the football team. I coach the Tight Ends.
LAFM: Where did you go to High School? When did you graduate? Did you play football? Any Accolades?
I went to and played football for Plaquemines High School. I played Safety and made All-District my junior year. My senior year I broke my leg and only played in the first 3 games. I did get to play in the Red Stick Bowl my senior year. My coach was Don Jones.
LAFM: How did you end up at McNeese?
I walked on to the football team my freshman year. I was pretty much just a walk-on scout team player for most of my time here. My senior year I did travel and play a little Special Teams. I always wanted to be a coach and new that playing football was what I needed to do.
LAFM: When did you graduate? Where have you been since?
I graduated from McNeese in December 2008. From their, I went to Northwestern and worked in the weight room for 1 semester. Next, I went to Redemptorist High School in 2009 and became a DB coach. I stayed with Redemptorist throughout that season. The following January I went back to Plaquemines High and coached their for 4 years. Next, I was hired as a GA at Delta State in Mississippi. I was their from June to this January.
LAFM: So this is your first year at McNeese as a coach. How did you end up at your current position?
When I was going back to Delta State after Christimas, Coach Viator contacted me. I had stayed in contact with Coach through high school coaching and recruiting. I came and worked a couple of camps and even brought kids to visit on game day. I also ran into Coach Viator on the road a couple times and always told him that if anything ever opened up I would love to come back. He said they had a spot open here. I pretty much got to Delta State, informed them that I was leaving, turned around and came here. Before this I had actually always coached defense. The spot I am at now is actually a TE coaching position. Basically, Coach Viator told me that he had an opening on the offensive side of the ball, and if I wanted to come on board then it was mine. I took it, and I am really enjoying it.
LAFM: How has it been switching from offense to defense?
I am really enjoying it. Learning the offense, and learning from Coach Viator has been a great experience. Coach Viator has a great offensive mind, and I am excited to coach under him.
LAFM: Talk about how you time as a player at McNeese? Win any conference championship? Any Playoff runs?
We won 2 conference championships. We won it in 2006 and 2007.
Well the 2006 year was when Coach Viator took over. At the time, we needed to win out to win conference. We actually did win out and make the playoffs as a really low seed. Unfortunately we lost to Montana. Going up to Montana who was a number one seed was a real tough place to go win. After starting off the season 1-3, it was a great season. In 2007 we went undefeated and had a great team. We actually beat ULL early in the season. We were the number 2 seed in the playoffs. Unfortunately, we had a lot of injuries and were upset first round against Easton Washington.
LAFM: What was something you took away from your time as a player on the scout team that helps you in coaching?
Being on the scout team, I learned how a ton of different defenses were run. You get to mimick whatever every other team is doing every week. You get opportunities to learn other things than just your playbook and your team. Also, it is not easy to go out their and just play on the scout team every day. You really develop a good work habbit. Your forced to develop a work ethic. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I was able to play on a collegiate level team for 5 years. Being on a team and building relationships with the coaches and players made everything worth it.
LAFM: What is your advice to high school students in regards to the recruiting process?
I was fortunate enough to be around Davon Godchaux since he was in 8th grade. He just signed with LSU. I made sure to stay on him about his grades. I was always telling him Grades, Grades, Grades! You have got to have your grades. Do not get caught up in the recruiting process, who is offering you, and who is looking at you. Focus on taking care of what you can control which is grades and working every day on developing yourself. You know these kids get all of this love when they are freshman and sophomores. I told Davon once “you are a great player for a freshman, but that does not mean you are going to be great as a senior.” You may be making great plays as a sophomore which will impress college teams. Making those same plays as a senior is different and not always as impressive to college teams. You never want to think you are already their. Focus on your grades, because if you do not have those nobody can help you. Then just keep on trying to develop as a player. I also tried to teach kids how to be polite and handle the process.
At Delta State, I did recruiting. It means a lot to us coaches when you are polite and have good manners. Take every school that talks to you to heart. Be respectful. Also, enjoy high school football. Have fun where you are now. Try to win now.
LAFM: What are your plans for the future? Is coaching what you want to do?
Absolutely. Coaching is what I love and want to do. I went and coached high school ball for 5 years. Now I am a GA which I am probably older than most. I probably could have been a GA once I got out of college. I really wanted to get away though and not coach players that I played with. You know, you may have one of your good friends that you lived with and went out with. I enjoyed my time at Northwestern, but I really wanted to get out on the field. I got to go to Redemptorist who I knew was going to have a good team. I really got to enjoy being a part of a great football program and coaching the program (Jeremy Hill and Lionel Collins were both their at the time). Then I went to Plaquemines for 4 years. I was really happy and excited with the things we did with that team. Last year we got to the quarters and it was great seeing their success. It was hard to leave Plaquemines being an alum. I have just really enjoyed every coaching experience I have had and cannot see myself doing anything else.
LAFM: Favorite game at McNeese so far?
I would say their is three and they were all my senior year. We went all the way to North Carolina and lost by seven. It was the first game I had ever traveled. We should have beat them. Brandon Tate really hurt us that game. He made some huge plays for them along with Hakeem Nicks. We came out the gate that game and were really beating them. A couple weeks later we went to South Dakota State. It was a great atmosphere, with a student section right by the fence. We won it in either double or triple overtime. At one point it was 4th down. We throw a pass and Steven Whitehead (from Salmen) comes down with it with his body hanging over the first down marker. We ended up winning the game. It was just one of those games that comes up in the locker room from time to time now.
LAFM: Favorite Moment at McNeese so far?
My senior year we played an NAIA team. I got in the game on the first kickoff. I recovered a fumble and it was a great feeling.
LAFM: McNeese has a great history and tradition. What has been the secret to such a great football program?
I think I would say it would be consistency on the coaching staff. Their has not been much turnover among the staff over the years. Especially with the top part of the staff. Most of these guys have been here since I first came to McNeese. The philosophy has never changed as a result. Coach Viator does an outstanding job on organization and how we go about doing things. Kids no exactly where they have to be and when they have to be their. They know what we expect out of them.We have also been able to recruit some really good players from the Baton Rouge area, New Orleans, East Texas, and Northern Louisiana. We have been getting the right kids in for our team.
As far as tradition goes, I came to McNeese to win. Kids come here for success and to win. They say if you spend 5 years at McNeese you average 2 Championship rings (conference). I have 2 and everyone I know has at least 2 if not 3. When it comes down to it, I would say it comes down to good recruiting and consistency with the staff.