Unselfish play by Willis fueled Tigers
Kyle Willis admitted that people often told him he had a selfish mentality when it came to playing the sport he loved.
Instead of letting those negative gestures slow him down, the four-year Northwestern soccer player used it to fuel his love and passion for the game.
At first, it may have looked that way with Willis' ability to score goals. Looks can be undoubtedly be deceiving, especially since the two-time Colonial League First Team All-Star pointed out the fact that he had the full intent of playing his heart out for his team.
Willis' unselfish play and willingness to put the team before himself helped the Tigers capture the Colonial League Championship this season. His talents have also earned him the 2013 TIMES NEWS Soccer Player of the Year award.
The Tigers senior did what he had to do to make his team better. Although, he scored 10 less goals in 2013, he collected 21 assists, which showed Willis' ability to adapt to whatever his team needed.
"I wanted to score goals, but I wanted to help my team that way," Willis stressed. "I was just trying to do the best I could for the team overall."
Instead of dwelling on the notion that he was a selfish player, Willis took the initiative of talking to his senior classmates in order to eliminate the issue completely before the start of the season. The communication between Willis and his other senior teammates made them stronger than ever, in turn strengthening the Tigers program and helping them achieve their goal of winning a Colonial League championship.
"I think that this year talking with the other seniors, we tried to make it more about the team. In previous years, I think it was more about some individuals rather than the team and we wanted to change that," Willis said. "So, we tried to play more as a team this year and I think that was why we were so successful."
Twice over his first three years with the program, Willis and the Tigers were forced to miss out on a Colonial League championship, falling in the semifinal in both 2010 and 2012. However, this year the Tigers team unity helped them win 13 straight league games, taking them to the Colonial League final for the first time since 2008.
"We had been talking about it since the beginning of the season," Willis said. "Once we finally got there, we didn't want to go out with anything less than a victory. It was the mentality we had we wanted to play as hard as we could together to achieve what we set out for in the first place getting our hands on a medal.
"We didn't want our season to end without it because it was the last time that we would ever be able to play the game of soccer with each other. So, just having that in the back of our minds, it made us that much more determined."
The Tigers were also abe to reach the district playoffs the last two seasons, missing out on a district title appearance by a single game both times. But it was the way that Willis lent a helping hand that mattered the most to his Northwestern head coach, Nate Hunsicker.
"He's just an all-around great leader, great player," Hunsicker said. "Bottom line, he was willing to do whatever was best for the team, whatever was best for the good of the group. Maybe taking on more of an offensive look on the field, or at the same time, if needed to serve more as a holding mid-fielder or a little more on the defensive edge, he was always willing to do whatever the team needed.
"But, honestly, in my opinion, the biggest intangible that he had was just the will to win, the desire to win. Just a phenomenal competitor. To back all of that up with superior talent, skill, and abilities makes him a very good soccer player and individual."
While looking back on his career, Willis mentioned the fact that the one major accomplishment of this year's Tigers team the first CL title for Northwestern since 2005 will always be on his mind. It's something that he and his teammates will never forget.
"None of the guys will forget it either," Willis said. "It's something not only we will always remember, but something our families and our friends will remember as well. It was just how we finished our senior year playing soccer that everyone will remember.
"Obviously, you want your previous years in high school to go the same way, so you have that feeling all throughout high school, but having it end like it did in our last year definitely made a bigger impact on our careers.
"It's a feeling that you won't ever really experience again, especially the same way we did this season."
And, Willis made it a point to pay dividends were they were due.
"I can't thank my teammates enough, my coaches, my family, and my friends. Everybody was so supportive. I know that our team is thankful for all the support that we had this year.
"A lot of people didn't have us doing that well, so with everybody behind us, we proved them wrong. We proved to ourselves we could do it. And, I'm just really happy with the way everything turned out. This is a very big honor for me."