As most of us know, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis has had a truly inspirational tale. ESPN's E60 program put together a great look at how far he has come from a rough childhood that saw him taking care for his siblings and being the man of the house at a very young age (video at the bottom of the post). Eventually he and his siblings were taken in by a stable family, which provided Willis with a chance to enjoy what it was like to be a teenager. He had started playing football and as we well know, grew to dominate it.
As Patrick Willis has emerged, he has done a great job giving back and providing people with the kind of inspiration that helped drive him to his current position as arguably the best linebacker in the NFL. He is involved in a program with Duracell called "Trust Your Power", through which he and other NFL players will do what they can to motivate and inspire high school students. The program was kicked off with this Duracell commercial that might be the most inspiring commercial you'll see.
You can learn more about the Trust Your Power program at Facebook. Duracell is also encouraging people to share their stories of trusting their power by tweeting with the hashtag #TrustYourPower.
I was actually able to get a chance to talk with Patrick for a few minutes on Monday, following their big win over the Detroit Lions. This program is about each person finding their passion that can inspire them to greatness. For Patrick Willis, it was football. I asked him what about football brought out his own "power within":
It was like safe haven. It was like my fantasy world. Where most people's fantasy world is ice cream and candy and massages and all that stuff, mine was just going out there to compete...That was my fantasy world. When I have an opportunity to do that, no matter what is going on around me...it's a chance to have fun and enjoy myself.
Given the difficulties of his childhood, I can understand how this would be a safe haven for him. I followed that up by asking what drives him now as he reaches spectacular heights in the game. It should surprise nobody that he wants to be remembered as one of the best players in the game. He said that he wants people to talk about him in the discussion of best linebackers to ever play the game. When kids are playing, he wants them saying, "I want to be Patrick Willis!" His view was that even as the money is spent, making it into the Hall of Fame is something that nobody can take away, and nobody can spend.
I followed up with a pretty straight forward question about the team's defense and what kind of room for improvement there is moving forward. It invited a fairly obvious answer, but I wanted to hear how Patrick described it. Simply put, until there are zeros across the board, there is always room for improvement. Patrick described himself as his own worst critic, and given what we hear from this team and this coaching staff, that really seems to apply across the board.
Earlier today, Coach Harbaugh addressed the media and talked about how the team can't be satisfied. There is always an opportunity for letdown, but this teams completely driven right now. We cannot say with 100% certainty that this team will not experience a let-down, but if there was ever a team that could avoid a letdown, it strikes me as this group.