By: Jason Kahn
November 12, 2013
Valdosta, GA - Willie Downs has started a new life. He's one of Valdosta State's top wide receivers.
But his old life is not far behind. He's had multiple run-ins with the law.
"It was the worst time of my life," Downs said.
Downs was an All-American at Godby, selected to the prestigious U.S. Army bowl. He signed with Florida State, but was deemed academically ineligible.
"I was heartbroken, man," said Downs, who was supposed to be part of Bobby Bowden's last recruiting class. "I was really looking forward to it. It was the next best thing for me. I put all my eggs in a basket."
Instead he spent two years at two community colleges. When he returned to Tallahassee, he fell into a troubling lifestyle.
"I was drinking a lot, abusing drugs," he said.
Downs says it affected his decision-making. He spent six months in jail for grand theft and burglary.
"I just felt like the world was closing in on me," he said. "I gave it all up."
But he didn't give up on football."
"I was sitting around and I still wanted to play," said Downs, now a 24-year-old junior at VSU. "I picked up the phone and called Valdosta. Just wanted another chance."
Two months before fall training camp, Downs was arrested for DUI.
"I thought I threw it all away again," he said.
Valdosta State Head Coach David Dean says Downs was not enrolled at the time.
"He fessed up to everything that he'd done in the past. He just wanted to put it all behind him," Dean said.
Downs knows if he wants to revive his once-promising career, he needs to stay out of trouble. He realizes this will be his last chance.
"I've changed," he said.