(Carroll County, TN) The stage is set for Super Bowl XLVII between
the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
One of the San Francisco players you’ll see on the field is linebacker Patrick Willis from Carroll County.
Willis grew up in up Smyrna and went to high school in Bruceton, about two hours from Memphis.
Ernie Smothers, a veteran reporter with the McKenzie Banner, said the popular gridiron star overcame several obstacles on his road to success, “He’s done very great things in his life. But in his heart he’s always going to be a Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central Tiger.”
Smothers has followed the career of professional football player Patrick Willis religiously, from Willis’ humble roots in Smryna, Tennessee, to his role with the San Francisco 49ers.
Smothers says the road for Willis was not paved in gold.
He says while Willis was a high school senior the State of Tennessee took him and his three siblings away from their father, “He was trying to do everything that he could financially and things of that nature, but it had gotten to be a little bit too much and so the State had stepped in.”
There were reports Willis’ father was also abusive.
Chris and Julie Finley applied for legal guardianship of the Willis children and Smothers says things quickly turned around, “And they helped him too study for his ACT. They gave him a stable family life, along with his siblings. and it just blossomed.”
After attending Ole Miss Patrick Willis was drafted by the 49ers in 2007.
Ernie Smothers says the football star hasn’t forgotten where he came from, “He has helped his home school of Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central with weight equipment and things of that nature.”
Willis has also been instrumental in donating hundreds of pairs of brand new athletic shoes to deserving children in Carroll County.
In Smyrna, where Willis grew up, his grandmother Mary Louise Blankenship, admires an autographed football jersey from Patrick and says she’s very proud of him.
But she says Sunday’s NFC Championship game was a heart stopper, “I am excited, really excited. I guess yesterday we couldn’t hardly stand on our own feet, we were hollering and jumping.”
Patrick’s father, Ernest Willis says he’s proud of what his son has accomplished and he wants to put what happened to his family in the past, “I hated it in the beginning, but it’s all in the past now. We all good people. We all family and that’s the best thing I can say about it.”