Perhaps we haven't seen the last of Gerald Willis at Florida after all.
Kassidy Hill of Gator Country and Saturday Down South reported Tuesday that Willis has been reinstated by Florida.
DE Gerald Willis has been reinstated to classes at Florida. Meeting next week about returning to athletic program. Wants to stay a Gator.— Kassidy Hill (@KassidyGHill) January 13, 2015
Willis's "family" — he's got a father and a mother who are both plenty chatty with reporters — says it doesn't know where the rumor that he wanted to transfer to Texas A&M (where he could have reunited with high school teammate Speedy Noil) started, but that the "goal" is for Willis to remain at Florida.
You may recall that Willis was reportedly "dismissed" last week after "yet another altercation" with a teammate. But the assumption there — in my original report and others — was that Willis was "dismissed," and by McElwain, possibilities carefully avoided by the wording of the UAA's only statement on the matter.
And when questioned about it during a press conference last week, Florida coach Jim McElwain had only this to say:
McElwain said Gerald Willis made a choice. "We'll be here for him. It's nothing personal," he said.— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) January 7, 2015
Willis attempting to return makes it sound more like an ultimatum was given and rejected by Willis initially, but eventually accepted. And if Willis has made the decision to shape up and not ship out, I like the idea of him returning: He clearly has to mature, of course, but it seems to me that he needs to be the one taking responsibility for his maturation.
The more cynical reading, though, is that McElwain and the football program are trying to keep a talented but troubled player and hope he can fly straight after a slew of indications that he's not ready to do that. Willis has an extraordinary amount of potential — he's quick and strong enough to play defensive end in the NFL at some point in his career, without question — but he's comported himself as a child more often than not to this point in his collegiate career.
Bringing Willis back without putting significant restrictions on him, or without a compelling reason to believe that he is motivated to change his behavior, would be letting a player get away with things that should be unacceptable because his talent is a bigger help than his behavior is a hindrance. And that makes me uncomfortable: That was, at root, what led Urban Meyer's tenure at Florida to its rocky end, and Florida to five years of walking the wilderness, relatively speaking.
I hope that Willis is returning with his head and heart in the right place.
If it's not, though, I'm sure we'll know before too long.