NORTH BEND — Divenson Willis began playing football when he was in second grade and has been dreaming of playing in college nearly that long.
On Wednesday, he made that dream a reality, signing a letter of intent to play for Linfield College in McMinnville.
“I’m excited for him,” said North Bend coach Gary Prince. “I know this is something he’s been dreaming about for a long time.”
Willis was a standout running back and linebacker for the Bulldogs, earning playing time as freshman when North Bend won the state title and earning all-league and all-state honors along the way.
He was a team captain for his sophomore, junior and senior years, helping the Bulldogs to the playoffs, even as they adjusted to playing at the Class 5A level the past two seasons.
“It’s been a great opportunity to coach him these last four years,” Prince said. “He’s been a huge leader.”
Both Prince and North Bend athletic director Mike Forrester recalled meeting Willis, who moved to North Bend from Roseburg as an eighth-grader and quickly earned respect from older players for his physicality and hard work.
Even then, his long-range goal was clear.
“The first time I met him, he said he was going to play college football,” Forrester said. “Just about everything he has done has been to get to this day.
“He’s worked hard and been an extremely good role model at the school.”
Willis also took part in summer camps and tried to draw the attention of schools.
Willis said he got confidence his dream could be a reality when Linfield first took notice. And the school kept an interest.
“They’ve been recruiting me for a year now,” he said.
In the Wildcats, he is joining a stellar program that has a long history of winning at the NCAA Division III level.
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“They are going to go compete for championships and I know he’s going to find a role in that,” Prince said.
Willis said the success of Linfield played a role in his college choice.
“Being able to go over there and play at a high level is what I wanted to do,” he said. “I don’t want to just go on a team that plays football. I want to play on a team that succeeds at what they do.”
Willis said Linfield is recruiting him as a running back, with the possibility of being a starter by his sophomore year. He hopes to see game time sooner than that.
“If I do what I need to do over the summer, I should be able to play right away,” he said.
Willis, who carries a 3.67 grade point average at North Bend, plans to study sports management at Linfield.
“I think the school is a great fit for him academically, and the level of competition is really good,” Prince said.
Willis and his younger brother, Dishawn, were adopted by Debbie and Kelly Willis when Divenson was 5 years old.
Kelly remembers the first time watching a game with Divenson that year.
“He asked why are they wrestling on the field?” his dad recalled. “He liked the tackling part of it.”
The first sport for Willis was swimming — he has competed in that sport for the Bulldogs three of his four years in high school and also participates in track and field and one year in wrestling — but football has long been his favorite sport.
Debbie Willis predicted good things for Divenson.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this young man,” she said. “He’s going to go far.”