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September 19, 2012
LB legacy: Willis said Singletary taught him to go downhill


Patrick Willis had a great story about his first practice with the 49ers in 2007. The young inside linebacker was going against guard Larry Allen, one of the biggest and strongest men who has ever played the game, when he heard Mike Singletary's voice bark out behind him.

"He said, 'Heeeyyyyy, what are you doing, son?' And I looked around and said, 'What do you think I'm doing? I'm trying to get around this big dude.'"

No, Singletary, who was then the 49ers linebackers coach, told the rookie. I want you to go straight at him. "And I'm thinking to myself, I don't know physics but ...." Willis said. "But from that point on, I got to the mindset where it was like, ok, if that's what he wants, that's what I'm going to do."

Willis went on to lead the league in tackles that season, and he said he's held onto that go-right-at-'em mindset ever since. It's what gives him confidence when facing someone 100 pounds heavier and it's one of Singletary's legacies in San Francisco. "He taught me how to be a little bit more of a down-hill guy," Willis said.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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