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New arrival Willis jumping right in at corner

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To start this week, Nate Willis was awaiting word on whether he would even be allowed to follow through on his commitment to come to Kentucky.

Having finished up his coursework at Arizona Western College, the Pahokee, Fla., native got the good news he was hoping for on Monday when he learned he had qualified. He scrambled to pack his things and book his flight and was in Lexington two days later with scarcely a moment to consider what life would be like at UK.

"I really didn't know what to think," Willis said. "I just came here ready to get to work, just ready to help."

By Friday afternoon, Willis had already practiced twice with his new team. By lunchtime on that same day, Willis had met a throng of reporters to talk about his journey to UK and the impact he hopes to make at cornerback. What he hasn't had time to do is unpack, and that's partially he has been so eager to get back to football and get to know his new teammates.

But as anxious as Willis may be to get started, his coaches might be just as excited to have him. Willis - the No. 3 junior-college cornerback in his class - plays a position where the Wildcats need all the help they can get. An injury to sophomore Cody Quinn, though minor, depleted an already thin group and made Willis's possible arrival even more important.

Positional needs and high expectations have combined to create a potentially pressure-laden situation for Willis - who had six interceptions in two junior college seasons - but he knows not to fall into that trap.

"It's not really a savior deal," Willis said. "I'm just here to do my part. It's really a team matter. It's 10 other guys, so everyone has to do their part and the defense come together. It's really not a savior deal, because I really can't do it by myself. As long as 11 play together, everything should be good."

Though he is just one part of a greater whole, Willis has been impressive in his first days on campus. During an otherwise "disappointing" Friday morning practice, the newest Wildcat caught his head coach's eye.

"I did see some good things from Nate," Mark Stoops said. "I do. I think he's got some good ability. It's good to see."

Missing both summer conditioning and the first week-and-a-half of camp puts Willis at a disadvantage, but not one that's impossible to overcome.

"That's the good thing about corner," Stoops said. "It's very hard in application, but really pretty easy in theory, really. You're not reinventing the wheel as far as assignments with cornerbacks. But if they can cover somebody they can help us."

Willis - along with Fred Tiller, Blake McClain and Jaleel Hytchye - is already getting first-team snaps.

"He's got good length, he's got good ball skills, very quick in and out of his breaks," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said of the 6-foot, 180-pound Willis. "He's very instinctive, meaning that he can anticipate routes, he understands leverages and he's got ball skills once the ball's in the air."

Perhaps Willis's most important immediate task is addressing his conditioning. He was working hard while he waited in Arizona and says he is in "fair shape," but is still adjusting to the tempo with which UK plays.

 "You can never (duplicate) what's going to go on out here in practice," Willis said.

Once his body is right, Willis will keep things simple.

"That's my job: come here and cover, play my part in the defense and just try to help the defense get better at what we do," Willis said. "And that's stopping people."

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