‘Bowl or bust’ for Buffalo quarterback

Thursday, September 18, 2008 | 11:19 p.m. CDT; updated 11:52 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 19, 2008
Although quarterback Drew Willy, a team leader among the Bulls, downplays his ability to make teammates better, Buffalo coach Turner Gill said it’s one of the senior’s biggest assets.

COLUMBIA - Listen to Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy talk for a few seconds, and it becomes apparent he is a confident guy.

He has to be confident. Otherwise, the northern New Jersey native would not have become the quarterback for a program that was coming off a 2-9 season when he joined.

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at No. 5 Missouri (3-0)
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WHERE: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium
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Otherwise, he wouldn't be on track to graduate in December, 3 1/2 years after starting school, despite playing four years of football.

Otherwise, in the spring, he wouldn't have called the 2008 season "bowl or bust" for the Bulls, who won five games last season.

"I think I'm tremendously confident, being a four-year starter," Willy said. "I've played against a ton of teams and defenses. I think confidence is at a good level, our team has good confidence as a whole. A lot of guys have been playing together for a while, and this is the best team we've ever had."

This season, an MU player would get some strange looks if he suggested that reaching a bowl game would mean a successful season, but in Buffalo, N.Y., bowl games aren't an expectation. The Bulls have never played in one. They only came close at the Division I-A level last year when they were one win short of the required six to be eligible.

So for Willy, labeling the season "bowl or bust" is a big statement, one that might put pressure on him later in the season. But it's a statement he doesn't mind backing up.

"Being a quarterback, there's pressure on you all the time," he said. "I think if you can't operate under pressure, you're kind of worthless. I enjoy the pressure."

Considering where the Bulls have been before last year, it's hard to blame Willy for wanting the spotlight.

"There was a time when there wasn't pressure on anyone here," said Willy, whose team won three games in his first two years at Buffalo. "No one really liked that. We actually have something to work for, something to go after, something we look forward to every day coming out to practice."

Buffalo coach Turner Gill said that though he doesn't necessarily agree the season would be a failure if the Bulls don't reach a bowl game, he understands why his quarterback would willingly put pressure on both his teammates and himself.

"We want expectations out of our guys," he said. "I demand our players to think about expecting things, and that's going to happen good for this program."

Willy usually leads those expectations. In his third season under Gill, Willy has become the unquestioned leader in the Bulls' huddle.

He brings "experience and leadership," receiver Naaman Roosevelt said. "Whatever he says goes, whatever he does, we do. We just follow Drew, whatever he says."

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, a believer in experience that comes with playing instead of redshirting, wouldn't be surprised by Willy's claim that his experience is responsible for the mentality of the Buffalo players. Willy's expectation to do his job well, though, might be just as responsible for the mind-set. Willy downplays his ability to make his teammates better, a skill that Gill labeled as one of Willy's biggest strengths.

"That's pretty much a quarterback's job, to get players around him better and get them to play to their highest potential," Willy said. "Getting them the ball and getting them confidence, feeding off your leadership."

Willy believes in himself to the point that he won't talk about what he's done to make Buffalo respectable in the Mid-American Conference. He expected to do that.

But even if Willy isn't impressed with what he's accomplished so far, his coach certainly is.

"He means a lot to us, he's a big-time player," Gill said. "He has a great passion for the game of football, and he's a very bright person. He has a strong arm to make all the throws and understands to read defenses. That's what you want in your quarterback."


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