BRENTWOOD — The Liberty High School community will convene Friday night at City Park in downtown Brentwood to honor one of its own.
Devon Willis, a defensive back on the school’s North Coast Section championship team in 2017, was killed last month when a person suspected of driving under the influence crashed head-on into the football player’s car on Highway 4 in Stockton. Willis was 20.
The candlelight vigil for the player known as “Texas” — the state where he came from — will begin at 7 p.m. Organizers ask that attendees wear a mask and social distance to protect all in attendance.
Brian Reel was Liberty’s defensive coordinator when Willis played for the Lions. He said the coaches remained personally close to Willis, who was buried last week in Texas, even after the student graduated from the school in 2018.
“That was the relationship that we had,” said Reel, who is helping to coordinate the vigil. “It wasn’t just about football. The kid was, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma’am.’ Making the other kids clean up after themselves when we had our weekly dinners before games. He was just that kid, super respectful.
“On the field, he was another person. In people’s grills. Letting them know that he’s there all game, that type of player. Just super competitive, for sure, but passionate.”
On the practice field, Reel recalled Wednesday, Willis wanted to defend the best receivers on the team, a group that included Zane Hinojosa and Sione Vaki.
“That was his time to go against the best — ‘I’m playing corner against Sione. I’m going against Hinojosa,’” Reel said. “That’s what got him better/.”
The passion rubbed off on younger teammates who would help lead the program to a state championship the year after Willis graduated.
Lineman Akili Calhoun, now a rising senior at Liberty who has committed to Cal, tweeted last month that Willis “showed me how to play with aggression” and that he was forever grateful to him. “FLY HIGH DEVON “TEXAS” WILLIS,” Calhoun added.
Reel remembered that Willis made a play near the goal line in 2017 that clinched a 17-14 win against crosstown rival Heritage. He was named player of the game by GetSportsFocus.
“That’s why he got the player of the game — because he made that stop,” Reel added. “It won us the game.”
Willis was planning to play for Diablo Valley College in the upcoming season after spending time with the team in the spring and summer the past couple of years.
“Things were looking very good for him,” Reel said.
Let’s show our love and appreciation for the life of “Texas” this Friday! Bring a candle for a candlelight ceremony at sunset.
You can also bring your favorite photo memory of “Texas” to leave with his family. pic.twitter.com/Obwmu0V6rX
— Coach Reel, DC (@B_ReelDeal21) July 8, 2020