In just four years, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis has already taken his place as one of the greats in the game today. When K-Swiss had their four-day shoot to restart their awesome Kenny Powers “MFCEO” campaign, With Leather’s Josh Zerkle was invited to check it out and spend time with the athletes supporting the California-based shoe brand. Willis was reached via phone and asked about his experiences with the K-Swiss campaign. Portions of this Q&A were edited for clarity and space.
So what are you up to today?
My girlfiend is getting her nails done, and I came with her. Once a month, I try to come in and get my feet done. I know some people are like, “Man, I’m a dude,” but it really helps. I don’t my nails painted or any of that. But yeah, once a month I like to come in and get my feet done, keep my heels from busting open. That kind of thing.
Your girlfriend probably appreciates that, too.
Right, yeah. [Laughs].
So, first question. Are you best inside linebacker in football right now?
Yes! [Clapping hysterically] That’s awesome!
But I say that with some humbleness and hunger behind that, you know? You said, right now, at this point in time? That was a weird question. You asked me that question, I mean, what else am I gonna say? I believe in myself, but there are guys out there like Ray [Lewis] and Brian [Urlacher] and guys like Takeo [Spikes], those guys are the pioneers of the game and that’s who I’m chasing, to get a legacy comparable to their. You say those names, and you just think “Wow, those guys can play.” True players. That’s what I’m trying to get to.
I think it says a lot about the quality of your play that a west-coast guy that plays defense can…I mean, those aren’t the guys that get endorsements in the NFL, and now here you are doing work for K-Swiss. I think that says a lot about what you’ve done in just four years in the league.
Yeah, it has been a blessing. I don’t let it get to my head. I’m still trying to think about how I can get better. Today, I wanted to rest. I know I needed rest, I don’t feel like I can rest. What if somebody else is working today? So I gotta do something, whether it’s mentally or something physically, I gotta do something.
Yesterday was supposed to be my day off, but then I walked inside my gym at the house and I was like, “Ahhhh, alright!” So I just went at it.
Where does that come from? That desire, that pride..we have so many different names for it. But what was that kept you in that gym? Where does that come from?
I think…I don’t know. I think it’s just something that…you know some things you just don’t know the answer to. I think it’s just something that the good Lord called me for. I think it’s what He called me to do. He blessed me.
My dad, you know, he wasn’t really into sports, but I was always playing pick-up football or pick-up basketball or baseball than trying to go to bonfire parties or any of that stuff. I just think that was instilled in me.
Let me ask you about your team. You have a great team, a young team, and you played well in a lot of games. Do you think Mike Singletary got a fair shake at the head job? He was only there for two years? I know you worked with him when he was your position coach. How do you feel about the way that all went down?
At the end of the day, I understand it’s a business. I know that Mike really wanted to be a head coach, and I think someday, his time will come again, and I think he’ll learn from the experience. I’m not saying he wasn’t cut out for the job. I think it was just part of his beginning.
I think I know what you mean.
I think next time, he’ll choose to do a few things differently. That’s part of the experience. I know for me, when I first got here, some of the things I was doing are not what I’m doing now. But at the end of the day, the owners wanted to go a different direction, and that’s what they’ve done. But Coach did a lot to help me mentally and physically. He taught me a lot of things about how to play the game. But I think the business side caught up to him. We’ve all got a boss.
Do you wear your K-Swiss shoes in games? Does K-Swiss even have a cleat model?
No, they don’t. I can wear any shoe that I want on the field.
I saw you tweet something about a run you went on the other day. And the song that got you through the homestretch of that run was Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.”
I just don’t think of that as a workout song.
[Sounding almost offended] You don’t think of that as a workout song?
No, I really don’t.
Honestly, I think that’s why you’re on that side of the phone and I’m on this side of the phone.