It started during a wedding party on New Years Eve, 2017. On the bottom deck of a two-story party boat in the middle of Texas, former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis sat, jamming with entrepreneur Wade Floyd.
Willis had tried to stay away from football since retiring at the end of the 2013-14 season. He’d golfed, he’d relaxed, he’d found ways to occupy his time, but he wanted to find a way to give back, and reach young football players who wanted to be elite. Living near Silicon Valley in South San Jose, Willis figured the best way to help teach the game to a new generation would come via technology.
“There’s no way I can get out every day of the week and get into traffic and try to touch every single kid in person,” Willis said. “The next best thing to that was bringing content and knowledge to a platform. I have some content — how do I put this out?”
So, with snow falling outside, there he sat, on a party boat in the middle of Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas, with a kindred spirit. Floyd had founded CoachTube, a clearinghouse for sports-centered tutorial videos and multi-part series teaching everything from the hurry-up no-huddle offense to basic run blocking techniques. Willis had head about it through mutual friend Jon Stuart, and it was during Stuart’s wedding party that Willis and Floyd got to talking. The result? The first in what Willis hopes will be a series of videos called “Building the Beast.”
“It was right up my alley,” said Willis, a veteran of eight NFL seasons, all with San Francisco. “It was something I’d already been thinking about since the day I retired. It was the right time, and the right alignment.”
Filming for Willis’s video took place at Bethel University, not far from his hometown of Bruceton, Tennessee. CoachTube is a platform, not a video production company, but Floyd’s relationship with Bethel’s head coach Brent Dearmon — who had previously done videos for CoachTube — helped facilitate the taping session, along with Bethel players.
“He’s one of the best linebackers, he’s perfect, so we hired a film crew for him,” Floyd said. “It’s Patrick’s content, Patrick’s training and Patrick’s video; we just helped set it up for him.”
Willis’s delivery was halting, at first, as he tried to introduce each segment. He admitted that his heart was beating out of his chest the whole time.
“It was really alien,” said Willis, who wasn’t used to playing to a camera, or getting a microphone and sound pack clipped to his clothes. “I was always ready to go out and play in front of 60,000 people, as opposed to just talking, so doing this video put me in that space where it was kind of uncomfortable, but that’s how you grow.”
Once he got on the bags and sleds, though, things come easier, his hands moved with their old quickness. Still, it was tough to articulate decades of experience and instinct.
“You have times where you’re like, ‘How do you explain things you pick up on, and things you know, things that helped me be able to recognize beyond what was just coached to you?'” Willis said. “It’s hard to relate when you’re teaching, or just telling someone about the position.”
The first video is introductory, with themes like being loose, being confident and being sure on the field — things that still come naturally to Willis.
“The next ones will be a little bit more detailed, and a little bit more fun,” Willis said. “It’s really a video to get my feet wet … I’m a perfectionist in my own eyes, so watching it, I see where I could have done. I felt like I could have been better, and again, that’s what’s always kept me humble and kept me hungry, is that I always know there’s room for improvement.”
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