Like Superman, Matthew Willis has one weakness. In his case, it’s Calculus II.
When Matthew Willis was a student at Glen Rose High School, he showed by example that student athletes can also excel in classroom studies.
Willis graduated last May as the GRHS salutatorian. He had also been an all-state offensive lineman as a senior on the school’s varsity football squad that rode an eight-game win streak into the third round of the 2016 Class 3A playoffs.
Willis is now a freshman playing football at Trinity University in San Antonio, and remains serious about his scholastic goals as an engineering sciences major.
While back home in Granbury with his parents for Christmas break, Willis told the Glen Rose Reporter that his Calculus II class was a real challenge.
“I love math and science, but Calculus II is a puzzle,” said Willis, who was named honorable mention all-state by the Associated Press Sports Editors following his senior season, and also gained Elite Academic All-State status. “It’s hard, but I really enjoy every minute of it.”
Willis hasn’t had a chance to get homesick. He made the trip home four times, and both his parents, Elvin and Laura Willis, attended almost all of his games. Also, his 22-year-old sister, Miranda Willis, is a senior at the University of Texas-San Antonio and has her own apartment in the city.
Willis may have absorbed at least some of his knack for math and science from his dad, who is an engineer employed by Lockheed in Fort Worth. The family used to live in Fort Worth before moving to Hood County when Matthew was 3 years old. He attended Granbury schools from first through fifth grades until transferring to Happy Hill for his sixth and seventh grade years. After that he commuted from Granbury to attend school in Glen Rose.
STILL A TIGER
As a member of non-scholarship, NCAA Division III football squad, Willis didn’t have to adapt to a new mascot because Trinity’s sports teams are also the Tigers.
He has, however, switched his football focus from being primarily an offensive lineman at GRHS to playing on the defensive line at Trinity. So far he has played both defensive tackle and nose guard there, helping the Tigers to a winning season mark of 6-4 while competing in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
While taking 17 hours of classes this fall, Willis also worked his way onto the traveling squad after the first game of the season at Trinity, a private liberal arts school that had a 2016 enrollment of just over 2,400 students.
“After that I got to play every single game,” Willis said. “I was playing as much as the starters. I actually improved my confidence a lot. At the beginning, there were guys I couldn’t compete with.”
Willis said he believes the Tigers were capable of winning all four of the games they lost.
LOOKING THE PART
Willis, wearing a T-shirt while helping out as a volunteer at the concession stand at the Glen Rose Holiday Basketball Tournament last week, had the look of a solid, sculpted athlete in his prime. Willis credits his improving build to the weight program Trinity’s football players go through before attending their morning classes.
He said that he currently stands an even 6 feet tall, and weighs 260 pounds. That’s five pounds heavier than his playing weight at GRHS.
But Willis quickly discovered in the college football world, he is no longer the “big dog.” He said he had teammates on the line at Trinity who weighed between 230 and 290 pounds.
Trinity’s reputation as a school for serious students is supported by the football coaching staff, taking great interest in the players’ educational interests.
“They ask how everything is going, and offer help,” said Willis, who has another 17-hour class load ahead of him this spring.
Willis said that head coach Jeremy Urban “stressed character” among the football players and emphasized that “You’re here for an education.”
He usually studies three to four hours a day.
“So the schedule is always really packed,” said Willis, who is considering eventually going to grad school.
Not surprisingly, Willis said he’s looking forward to competing for even more playing time his sophomore football season, even though the Tigers are losing only one top defensive lineman to graduation.
After all, he’s had plenty of experience competing — and succeeding — at a high level on and off the playing field.
“I’m glad we only lost one (lineman). I like competing, more than just getting a spot,” Willis said. “I think we’ll be really good next year. I think we have a lot of talent. I really enjoy it. I’m going to play every year I can.”