One of the most experienced and valued contributors on the Penn State defense, safety Malcolm Willis again will be counted on to provide consistently productive play and leadership for the secondary. The situation the hard-hitting fifth-year senior faces entering this season is vastly different, and improved, from the start of 2012, when he and senior Stephon Morris were the only members of the secondary who had much game experience. Morris has graduated, leaving Willis as the most battle-tested defensive back, but this year his leadership can be accentuated by returning starters Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Adrian Amos, as well as juniors Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle. The secondary also will benefit from being much more familiar with John Butler, who coached the secondary last year and was promoted to defensive coordinator in January. The strong, athletic and instinctive Willis has a nose for the ball and will be counted on to make plays for the defense and special teams. The former Lackey High School standout enters the season with 17 career starts, the second-highest total on the squad. He started the first 10 games of last season at free safety, but missed the final two contests with a minor knee injury suffered at Nebraska. He was seventh on the team with 45 tackles (27 solo) last year, adding a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. The highly-skilled and motivated Willis graduated in May and was among the seven Nittany Lions who had earned their degrees after the 2013 spring semester. A potential All-Big Ten candidate, he is among six returnees from metro Washington, D.C.
2012 (Senior Season)
Willis started at free safety the first 10 games, but missed the final two contests with a slight knee injury. He was seventh on the team with 45 tackles (27 solo) and added a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. Willis played an instrumental role for a defense that ranked second in the Big Ten and No. 16 nationally in scoring defense at 19.1 ppg, holding six teams to 17 or fewer points. He made six tackles against Ohio and five at Virginia to open the season. He contributed four stops against Temple and five in the 39-28 comeback win over No. 24 Northwestern. Willis made three tackles in helping hold Iowa to 209 yards of total offense in the 38-14 prime time win. He made five hits against Ohio State and four solo stops in the 34-9 win at Purdue, recovering a fumble near midfield that led to a first-quarter score. His seven tackles at No. 18 Nebraska were a season-high, but Willis suffered a sprained knee in the contest that sidelined him for the Indiana and Wisconsin games.
2011 (Junior Season)
Playing in every game, Willis recorded 33 tackles (22 solo), as well as one interception, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. He delivered Penn State's second blocked punt of the season against Eastern Michigan. In wins over Iowa and Purdue, Willis made two solo tackles against the Hawkeyes, also grabbing an interception, and made three stops against the Boilermakers. In wins over Northwestern (4) and Illinois (3), Willis accumulated seven total stops. In the meeting at Wisconsin for the Leaders Division title, Willis made five solo tackles and recovered a fumble. In the TicketCity Bowl with Houston, he was fourth on the team with a season-high eight stops. Willis saw action on 439 snaps, with a high of 48 each against Indiana and Houston.
2010 (Sophomore Season)
Willis saw increased playing time the second half of the season as Nick Sukay and Andrew Dailey battled injuries. Starting the final six games, he was instrumental in Penn State ranking second in the Big Ten and No. 16 in the nation in pass defense. He was sixth on the squad with 54 tackles (29 solo), grabbed one interception and had three pass breakups. Willis made six stops against Illinois. He saw extensive action at Minnesota and recorded a career-high nine tackles in the win. Willis made his first career start in the prime time win over Michigan and tallied eight tackles and a team-high three pass breakups. He continued his strong play as he delivered eight tackles in the historic comeback win over Northwestern. Willis grabbed a critical fourth-quarter interception of Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor on Penn State's two-yard line, for his first career interception. He made five tackles against the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium. Willis compiled four stops in the win over Indiana at FedEx Field and added two pass breakups. He made seven hits (six solo) and a pass breakup against Florida in the Outback Bowl. Willis was on the field for 642 snaps, topped by 90 plays at Minnesota and 80 plays against Florida in the 2011 Outback Bowl.
2009 (Freshman Season)
A quarterback, running back, linebacker and safety at Lackey High School under Coach Doug Lamb, Willis received All-Southern Maryland, all-county and honorable-mention all-met accolades during his scholastic career. Willis recorded 773 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior. He also hauled in five receptions for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Willis was a significant contributor for the top rated defense in the conference by recording career totals of 260 tackles and eight interceptions. He accumulated 99 hits, with three interceptions and two sacks, as a senior. A two-year captain and team MVP, he led Lackey to conference and regional titles and a berth in the state semifinals. He also played on the winning squads in the 2008 Chick-fil-A Challenge and the Maryland Crab Bowl. Willis was a three-year letterman in basketball and threw the discus as a member of the track and field team.
Full name is Malcolm Russell Willis. His mother is Dale Marshall and he has one brother, Vaughn, and one sister, Mia. Relative Leonard Willis played football at Ohio State and in the NFL, playing for Minnesota, New Orleans and Buffalo in the late 1970s. In his spare time, Willis enjoys playing video games and hanging out with teammates and friends. Willis earned his degree in recreation, parks and tourism management in May 2013. Born March 27, 1991 in Washington, D.C.