CAMPBELL, CA – If there’s any profession more opposite than the brute physically, adrenaline pumping violent nature of professional football, it may be a tech guy. But hey, who says you have to pick?
Patrick Willis shocked the NFL when he announced his retirement from the game just one year ago at the age of just 30, still at the peak of his career and solidified as one of the NFL’s best and more feared linebackers.
According to Mashable, Monday through Friday, Willis commutes to his Silicon Valley office park to his Tech job at Open Source Storage, a far cry from his job as a NFL-er or a picked cotton picker, which he did day in and day out as a kid in Tennessee to help support his family. Willis grew up poverty-stricken and beaten, eventually having to move in with their basketball coach to flee an abusive, alcoholic father.
Willis didn’t let his situation stop him. He found salvation in sports, football specifically, going on to two-time collegiate All-American honors at Ole Miss before being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers 11th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft.
“People always told me when I was growing up that if you want to be something great, you have to be this physical specimen that can jump up to here and all that,” Willis told Mashable in an interview this week. For me, this is an opportunity to be able to tell young kids that you can be more than just a physical specimen to be great,” Willis said. “I’m a person that can’t speak about something until I’ve done it myself.”
Touching upon his decision to step away from the game and land where he is now, Willis said, “For me, there’s more to my life than football. It has provided an amazing platform for me to build on, but it’s my health first and everything else just kind of makes sense around it.”
But how exactly did Willis go from the pads and gridiron to the black t-shirt and desk chair?
Happening to live in the same Silicon Valley neighborhood as his future boss, Open Source founder Eren Niazi spotted Willis moving bags from his car to his door step during the recovery of his surgical operation.
Ironically enough, Niazi (second from left) had never been to a 49ers game.
As the two neighbors got to know one another more, Willis found himself impressed by Niazi’s rags-to-riches story and tech-industry success. Niazi, in turn, was impressed by the traits that made Willis an NFL star, as well as the player’s curiosity for life beyond football.
About two months after he announced his retirement from the NFL, Willis signed on full-time with Open Source Storage as a board member and executive vice president for partnerships, per Mashable. Willis is now settled into the company that provides storage and infrastructure solutions to other companies.
Niazi spoke about his hire saying, “A lot of guys come in with a big ego, but Patrick’s not like that. He’s just a total pleasure to work with.”
With all the money and fame a man who came up the way he did could ever need, Patrick Willis has chosen to delve into new endeavors as an opportunity to learn and set an example, a success story worth appreciating.