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In Sports

Brookfield Academy alumnus Fred Willis is now catching passes for the Wisconsin Badgers. (PHOTO: Brookfield Academy)

In Sports

From left, Brookfield Academy Director of College Counseling Sharon Koenings, Fred Willis, his mother Alicia Harwell and Badgers coach Bret Bielema. (PHOTO: Brookfield Academy)

In Sports

Fred Willis also won state championships in track while in high school. (PHOTO: Brookfield Academy)

Milwaukee Talks: Wisconsin Badgers receiver Fred Willis, Jr.

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OMC: Do you miss track at all? Did you think about doing both for the Badgers?

FW: Oh yeah, definitely. I definitely thought about running both and coach Bielema was OK with it, but football pays the bills so you gotta do that first. And I'm trying to do an engineering major, so that takes a lot of time (laughs). Football on top of that is a full-time job, 32 hours a week. I don't have the time or the energy to try both. But, yeah, I talked to the track coaches and they were excited about it and they told me to let them know, but ultimately I couldn't do it.

OMC: You had gone down to New Orleans to help in the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. You were only a kid – why did you go and what do you remember?

FW: Man. It was sad, honestly, seeing all those people without a home. We even saw a few stray animals tied up and just left behind. It was kind of a touching moment. Just giving back to people who don't have anything. We cleaned up some houses and we did some painting and we handed out some things, just trying to give back to the community. At the time I was in the Marquette Upward Bound program since freshman year, so we did things like that every year, maybe 25 hours every year, just giving back to the community.

OMC: What did the Upward Bound program mean for you?

FW: Honestly, growing up in Milwaukee, Upward Bound was for staying out of trouble (laughs). I learned how to stay sharp with the academics, taking a few courses. Some kids in Milwaukee aren't fortunate enough to see the rest of the world or whatever, so we would take college tours around the country.

We went to Florida, Tennessee, a whole bunch of big schools, smaller private schools. We just did a lot of things to keep us sharp, keep us focused, keep our dreams alive and not get caught up in all the mess in Milwaukee and just try and stay positive.

OMC: When you come home, are there any places you want to get out to?

FW: I just hang out with friends. I'm still pretty in touch with my middle school, Young Leaders Academy. They taught me a lot. I went there for eight years so I'm really close to a lot of the teachers. They call me their "son" and stuff like that. We're still pretty close, so I try to see them when I get back. But sometimes I just want to relax and just get away from everything, stay out of the limelight, stay focused.

But for the most part I try to hang out with friends, family. I see a few teachers that talk to me, keep me inspired, things like that. It's really chill. I don't really go out, just try to stay mellow, hang out with some people. But if I go out, it's definitely The Fresh Market (laughs).

OMC: Some quick thoughts when you hear a few words here. Camp Randall – first thoughts.

FW: Big state. Big day. Thousands of fans jumping around. Clutch situations. The excitement, electricity here is just awesome. It's a tough place to play in, but awesome.

OMC: Bret Bielema.

FW: Very, very humble guy actually. Some people say they don't like him but I like him, personally. He keeps me focused. He picks on me a little bit, but it's only to make me better. I like that part about him. No matter what it is, he tells the truth. He'll break it down for you if you don't understand something. You can go to him or other coaches and he'll be positive about everything even if you messed up as long as you messed up going 100 percent. Coach Bielema does a great job with the coaches and trying to get everything in order. Great guy.

OMC: Favorite Big Ten road venue?

FW: I would have loved to have been at the game at (Michigan State University) but I was hurt that game. That would've been awesome. I didn't do too much the second part of the season because I had a concussion, so most of my game experience was at home.

OMC: Your hometown – Milwaukee?

FW: I'm proud of where I've come from, it's made me who I am, but at the same time there's a lot of things wrong in Milwaukee that can't really change. You can only change your odds, change your circumstances and that's what I'm trying to do playing football, going to college and staying positive. A lot of people from Milwaukee don't go to college – I don't know if you guys know that or not. I'm not too proud of Milwaukee itself, but I'm proud that I came from there and I'm the person who I am today.

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TosaJim | April 13, 2012 at 1:26 p.m. (report)

I wish him all the best...but after suffering a concussion that keeps you out for half a season sounds very serious. I'm not sure the risk is worth the rewards.

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