Down a single point with less than two minutes to go, the San Diego Chargers faced a 3rd-and-10 from their own 20-yard line and desperately needed a big play to keep their drive alive.
It’s no surprise they went looking in
While the sure-handed receiver did not make the catch, his reputation and the resume he’s put together so far this preseason caused the Vikings’ Harrison Smith to launch himself helmet first towards Willie’s head to ensure the pass wasn’t complete. As a result, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Bolts the first down they urgently needed. Two plays later, quarterback
“I feel like I really did my part in the fourth quarter,” Willie said following Sunday afternoon’s practice. “It all came together in that last drive in our two-minute offense, and I tried to make as many plays as I could to help the team win.”
Willie has translated an outstanding training camp into productive games, catching four passes for 90 yards while averaging 22.5 yards per catch. The highlight came in Week 2 vs. the Dallas Cowboys, when the 6-foot-3, 211-pounder out of Arizona State leaped between two defenders to snare a ball, causing them both to fall to the ground as he ran in for the 38-yard touchdown.
“It was a blessing to get in the end zone like that,” he said. “It felt great to get my first NFL touchdown and hopefully there are many more to come.”
Making the team as an undrafted rookie free agent is arguably the hardest path to the NFL, but every year it seems a couple of players make the squad by doing just that. Willie is doing his part to be that guy in 2012.
“I’m just grinding every day to show that I’ve got the talent to be a Charger,” he said. “I bring hands that don’t drop many balls, and that’s the most important thing for a receiver. And I’ve also got the ability to make big plays.”
It is that ability that has caught the eye of his coaches and teammates alike.
“Mike makes tough catches,” said head coach Norv Turner. ”He’s got a big body and when he’s gotten the ball thrown in his direction he’s done a good job.”
One of those guys tossing him the ball is quarterback
“He’s a big physical receiver who competes for the ball very well in the air,” he said. “He looks at it like no matter what, it’s his. He’s a good worker and has contributed really well this preseason.”
In turn, Willie is grateful to have someone as talented as number 17 throwing him the ball.
“He’s a great guy, a great quarterback and a great leader,” he said. “It’s a blessing being around him. He makes everyone around him that much better.”
Willie also is grateful to the other wideouts on the roster, who he says have taken him under their wing and given him strong words of encouragement.
“They’ve all brought me in and given me extra help,” he said. “If I have a question with certain plays or routes, having guys like (Robert) Meachem, Malcom (Floyd),
If he continues to play the way he’s done this past month, Willie will surely one day be passing on his own advice to young rookie wide receivers as well.