Niagara Gazette

September 16, 2008

UB FOOTBALL: Willy sparking Bulls' resurgence

Saturday’s win over Temple may go down as the most dramatic in University at Buffalo history, but for senior Drew Willy, it was just another step in his evolution into a top-tier quarterback.

Willy’s 35-yard heave to Naaman Roosevelt as time expired gave the Bulls a two-point victory. It was a play that made all the national highlight shows, and a throw that has suddenly thrust Willy into the spotlight.

“There’s been a lot more attention,” Willy said on Tuesday. “It was a tremendous play to end the game, and I was glad I was a part of it.”

Now one of the best quarterbacks in the Mid-American Conference, Willy gets his shot to make national news again this Saturday when the Bulls play at No. 5 Missouri. The matchup will feature a pair of Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award candidates, with Willy going head-to-head with Missouri gunslinger Chase Daniel.

“I love playing games like this against the best teams in the country,” Willy said. “You get to prove yourself, and you get to play under pressure. I think that’s every quarterback’s dream.”

Willy has certainly been a dream for the upstart Bulls, who are 2-1 (1-0, MAC) for the first time since 1998 — their last year in the Championship Subdivision. He’s already thrown for eight touchdowns and just two interceptions, and his 348-yard performance against Temple was a career-high.

“He’s very smart how he plays,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “You can just see his experience ... he’s a real good football player.”

Of course, it helps when your head coach is Turner Gill, the former Nebraska signal-caller and Heisman Trophy-finalist. When Gill came to Buffalo following the 2005 season, Willy was just finishing up a freshman campaign that saw him throw 12 interceptions and just six TDs in 10 games.

Gill knew the strong-armed Willy had the physical tools, so he taught the youngster more about the mental approach to the game.

“He’s been like a father-figure for me,” Willy said about Gill. “I have that kind of relationship with him. We’ve really become closer.”

“There was a few things here and there that we needed to get corrected to help him become one of the top quarterbacks in the country,” Gill said. “It was more than the physical-attributes that I talked about. It was more about the intangible things that defines what a leader and outstanding quarterback is.”

Those intangibles were evident in the huddle before the last-gasp play against Temple.

“We all knew we had a chance, and we all saw how determined and focused Drew was,” Roosevelt said of his quarterback.

That take-command demeanor has helped Buffalo go from one of the perennially worst teams in the country to a respected program that may contend for the MAC title this season. And who knows, it might even carry them to an upset victory over the Tigers this weekend.

“We’re going to have a good, balanced attack running and throwing the ball,” Willy said. “If we can keep their explosive offense off the field, the better the chance we have to win the game.”