Trusting God's Plan

By Malik Willis

Everything happens for a reason.

Those are the words that went through my mind when I made the decision to transfer from Auburn. They were in my thoughts the very first time I stepped onto the campus at Liberty. Those very same words were all I could think about as I sat out the entire 2019 season watching my teammates play without me.

If life has taught me anything, it taught me to take everything one day at a time. It taught me not to worry about things outside of my control. It taught me that God’s time is the only time.

There are no certainties in life but the here and now.

As long as I work hard and lean on my faith in God, everything else will fall into place as it should. It took me a long time to bring myself to that sort of mindset. But without those struggles, I would have never had a chance to earn this new opportunity.

A Change In Scenery

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan.

I wasn’t doing things the right way at Auburn. I let the early success go to my head and forgot the work it took to get me to this level. Football has been a part of my life since I was five years old. That’s a lot of years of blood, sweat and tears to make playing Division I football a reality.

I’ve dedicated my whole life to this sport.

But through this entire process, I’ve also learned there’s more to being a good college football player than simply being the most athletic guy in the room.

I have to put in the work in the classroom with my academics. I have to try harder to establish a great relationship with my teammates. And I also have to become a student of the game by studying film and breaking down defenses.

All of those things clicked for me the moment I walked away. Funny how life works sometimes, right?

Transferring really opened my eyes to everything I was doing wrong. It brought me back to ground zero and forced me to return to the same mentality I had before college. I had to go back to the basics and reinvent myself as a student-athlete.

Hitting the reboot button was a mixture of uncertainty, excitement and confidence rolled into one emotional ball. That’s the only way I can describe the feeling I had the very first day I arrived at Liberty.

More Than A Student Athlete

The start of a new journey, new place and new people—I just remember stepping back and taking it all in. Little did I know Liberty would change me for the better in ways I never even thought possible. 

The one thing I appreciate more than anything was how quickly I was welcomed on the team. Even as an outsider, they opened their hearts and took me in as one of their own. The coaches at the school were genuine in their efforts to guide me towards maturing physically and spiritually.

I needed that guidance in my first year with the program. Due to the NCAA transfer rules, I was forced to sit out for the entire year with the team. So I spent all season practicing and watching the games from the sidelines.

Well, most of the games.

I wasn’t allowed to travel to away games. To say the entire experience was tough would be an understatement. There were times when it was downright disheartening. I wanted to be with my teammates whether I was playing or not.

But I also saw the opportunity in my situation. I finally had a chance to focus more on becoming a student of the game instead of solely relying on my athleticism.

There’s a big difference between knowing where you want to go with the ball and actually knowing the coverages you’re facing. I was able to take that leap towards learning defenses and the responsibilities of every player within that defense.

For the first time in my career, I feel like I’m actually seeing the game rather than just playing it. 

I’ve actually improved as an athlete after sitting out the year, which is something that wouldn’t have happened if I went ahead and played. 

God is Good

I’ve actually improved as an athlete after sitting out the year, which is something that wouldn’t have happened if I went ahead and played. 

Maybe it was God’s way of forcing me to slow down and go back to the basics. Perhaps all of this was just his way of humbling me.

I’ve come to the realization that every day is a blessing and an opportunity to be better—not just on the football field, but also in life.

As in sports, the key to life is knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and doing whatever you can to build on them. 

My journey to Liberty has given me a chance to find myself as a football player and as a man. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for dragging me through everything he did to ultimately put me in this position.

A better man, teammate and football player—it’s proof that maybe everything really does happen for a reason.

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