Texas Bowl 2016: Two NFL caliber defensive ends square off

Senior defensive end Jordan Willis carries the American flag out of the tunnel at the start of the football game between K-State and Texas Tech on Oct. 8, 2016, in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (File Photo by Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

There will likely be many types of fans to watch the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl between Kansas State and Texas A&M Wednesday one of those types is in for a real treat: fans of pro-prospect defensive ends.

Adding to the intrigue of the nationally-televised game is the fact that each side has a defensive end projected by some to go in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft should both choose to declare for it.

For K-State senior Jordan Willis, that decision is pressing: either he will choose to declare for it, or he’ll choose to pursue other passions. For Texas A&M first-round prospect and likely top pick, junior Myles Garrett, there is still the option to return to school for another year. Garrett remained vague about when he might decide whether to make the jump to the NFL, or stay in college and traumatize opposing offensive lines for another season.

“After the game, sometime after the game,” Garrett said about when he’d make a decision.

In many ways, the two men are similar. Neither man seeks the limelight through their words, they prefer to let their play speak for itself.

“He’s one of those guys that isn’t going to talk too much; he’s just going to go right by the book and he’s going to do everything right, and I’ve learned a lot from him just in film study and how to care yourself,” sophomore offensive lineman Dalton Risner said about Willis back in November.

While Garrett may be the face of the team because of his play on the field, he said there are burdens to the role, and one in particular:

“Too much media,” Garrett said.

Despite an injury-shortened season in which he only played in which he missed three games, Garrett still finished with 8.5 sacks, which led the team, even after missing those games.

“This guy was not healthy after (the) Arkansas (game),” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “The fact that he wanted to play in games at 50 percent, whatever it was, third downs, whatever, with his teammates says more about him than just his talent, and that speaks to our team. He’s not very vocal but when he speaks up you hear him and he plays it, and I think it’s been a great example to our younger players.”

Willis, meanwhile, has recorded 11.5 sacks this season, good for first in the Big 12 and tenth nationally.

“(Willis) is a really, really talented, talented guy and one of the better defensive linemen in the country,” Sumlin said. “I think he’s very versatile, he’s strong against the run, he’s got a great first step. He’ll be easily one of the top three or four guys that we’ve played against this year and we’ve played against some pretty good ones. Half the all-american team is in our league in the west. You watch this film with this guy, with production at what he does, he’s right there.”

Willis will take the field for the final time against the Aggies. He’ll be one of 24 seniors for the Wildcats playing in their final game.

Shelton grew up in the desert southwest. A native of Lancaster, California, he mostly grew up in south Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado before moving to Kansas and graduating from Junction City High School. He started working as a news writer for the Collegian in 2009 before taking a three-year break from college. He returned to K-State in 2013 and has since worked for the news desk, feature desk, as a copy editor and now as a sports writer. He enjoys tap dancing, writing anything possible, reading court opinions and watching Arizona Coyotes hockey.