Top 100 member Willis, NSU’s gentle giant, dies at 42

During his time on the football field at Northwestern State, Ahmad Willis terrorized opposing offenses in general and quarterbacks in particular.

Away from the field, in the words of his younger brother, one of the Demons’ most productive sack artists was “a quiet, gentle teddy bear.”

“My brother would give you the shirt off his back,” George Willis said. “He loved people so much. On the football field, that changed. He was different on the field.”

Few in Northwestern State history have been better at doing what Ahmad Willis did than the man who died at age 42 in a boating accident Oct. 1 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Funeral arrangements are pending, but George Willis said he expects there to be a service in Chattanooga on Saturday and a memorial service in Quitman, Texas, on Oct. 15.

A 2001 All-American, Ahmad Willis completed his Northwestern State career third on the Demons’ all-time sack list with 21. He was named one of NSU’s Top 100 players of all-time during the centennial celebration of Northwestern State football in 2007.

While Ahmad Willis has remained third in school history for two decades, his impact went far past those 21 career sacks.

Roy Locks, a converted linebacker who spent time as the defensive end opposite Ahmad Willis, racked up 18.5 career sacks, which stands fourth in Demon history just behind his good friend and teammate.

He was equally as struck by the way Ahmad Willis could turn from on-field terror to off-field teacher at the snap of a finger.

“There was no man left behind with Ahmad,” said Locks, who will be inducted into the N-Club Hall of Fame on Oct. 22. “He would wait on everybody. If you needed anything, he would do it for you. Even with the younger guys, he stayed after and cheered them on. He coached them up on his own.

“He had a lot of good core values. His family and my family were very close. George was the same way. (Ahmad) was such a big-hearted guy – a gentle giant until the lights came on. He’s definitely going to be missed.”

A product of Quitman, Texas, Ahmad Willis constantly impressed and shocked his NSU teammates with his athleticism and his prep exploits.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 262 pounds in his NSU bio as a senior, Ahmad Willis was an all-district point guard in high school as well as an all-state tennis player who finished fifth throwing the shot put in the regional meet.

Locks spoke glowingly of Ahmad Willis’ personality and his ability to relate to his teammates, qualities inherited from his parents, Rebecca and Herbert, who were teachers and farmers.

“Our parents instilled a lot of our behavior and how we treated people at a young age,” George Willis said. “They also added the athletic part. They coached us for so long.”

Ahmad Willis’ on-field performances put him on the professional football radar, but he had other ideas.

“He didn’t run for the scouts or participate in Pro Day,” said De’Von Lockett, Northwestern State’s assistant head coach whose Demon career ran concurrently with Willis’ from 1999-2002. “He got his sacks, got his degree and went to work.”

Ahmad Willis did play three years of arena football before focusing on family time with his wife, former Northwestern State track and field athlete Natasha Trauth, and their two children.

He spent time as a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before working with the YMCA in Chattanooga, continuing to give back to the community at large.

“He was so good with kids,” George Willis said. “Kids drew to him. He worked with so many kids, including those from the most impoverished parts of Chattanooga.”

Building relationships came easily for Ahmad Willis.

“He loved Northwestern State, and he loved the friends and relationships he made there,” George Willis said. “He held onto those relationships, especially with the brothers he made on that team. They still talked to this day. Northwestern State was a big part of his life. He met Natasha there, and they have two children together. When his kids came into the world, that became his world.”

Those relationships remained strong on both sides.

Locks was talking with former NSU teammate and N-Club Hall of Famer Terrence McGee when he learned of Ahmad Willis’ accident.

“It was crazy,” Locks said. “I was here with a couple of teammates and was on the phone with T. McGee. We got a message going around trying to figure out what happened.

“He’s definitely going to be missed. This one hurts a little bit. It’s heartbreaking right now, but the stories are so good. We had a lot of good times, and we’ll try to remember those.”