The day before the start of classes at North Greenville University in the fall of 2010 will forever mark the moment when the greatest walk-on in the history of Crusader football trotted onto the Younts Stadium practice field for the first time. God answers the prayers of the faithful, and NGU coach Jamey Chadwell, whose team lost its top two quarterbacks to knee injuries in spring practice, was praying for what will probably become a memorable milestone in the annals of Crusader football.
On that sizzling August 17th morning, former Byrnes High School and Clemson University quarterback Willy Korn was cleared by the NCAA to transfer to NCAA Division II North Greenville, and he then donned the black and red of the Crusaders for his first practice before an expectant crowd of area media and NGU players and coaches. No one could comprehend it at the time, but Korn’s arrival would hail the start of a highly successful two-year run for the Crusaders with the 6-2 210 pound blonde haired, blue eyed quarterback under center.
To date, as the starter for the Crusaders since the third game of the 2010 season, Korn has led NGU to a 15-3 overall record, a National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association Victory Bowl Championship, and into the D2football.com and the American Football Coaches Association national polls for the first time since 2006. NGU set a record for most consecutive wins last year (8), broke numerous offensive records, and this year achieved back to back winning seasons for the first time ever. Korn has completed 206-343 passes for 2,867 yards and 31 touchdowns in 20 games, for an average of 147.6 per game at NGU, and has rushed for 313 yards and seven TD’s.
Although Chadwell and the Crusaders needed an experienced QB to guide a promising young team, Korn’s arrival in Tigerville last year was probably was more of a heaven sent miracle for him than to North Greenville. “I really believe that I needed North Greenville more than the other way around,” Korn explained. “The way things had gone for me the previous few years, I had lost confidence in myself, and didn’t believe in myself anymore; I really didn’t think I was a very good player. I let it affect me off the field also. When things keep going bad, you automatically start to assume that something else bad is going to happen.”
HOW DID WILLY GET TO TIGERVILLE?
Willy describes the wildest week of his football life: (Willy was at Clemson for three years, but with injuries and a much publicized battle with Kyle Parker in the offing, he graduated with a mass communications degree in three years. He wanted to play quarterback again, and departed for Marshall University with two years of eligibility remaining. He stayed at Marshall for a brief time before being told he wasn’t in the plans as a QB for the Herd.)
“That was just a crazy week. Three or four days before I came home to South Carolina, I went into the office with the Marshall coach and offensive coordinator. They said, ‘you’re very athletic; you’re a hard worker, but you don’t have the arm strength to play quarterback for us. But, you’re athletic enough, so we want to put you at safety.’ As soon as that happens, it was like an explosion in my mind; I can’t believe what’s going on, so I tried it for a few days because I didn’t know what else to do. I finally talked to my dad about it after a few practices. I had to decide, do I want to stay up here and maybe start at safety and on special teams. We talked to the NCAA, and we figured out I could transfer to a Division II school since I’d already transferred once. However, since I had already graduated, I could still transfer schools. My father had emailed Coach Chadwell, and with NGU veteran QB’s Richard Harb and Aaron Seigler hurt, they didn’t have a very good quarterback situation. Reggie Lewis was a redshirt freshman, so Coach Chadwell said there was an opportunity for me to come and play once I cleared the NCAA. So, in the span of four days, I was playing safety at Marshall, moving home, and then taking snaps at quarterback at North Greenville. It was just nuts.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST WEEK AT NGU?
“I guess the biggest thing that I wanted to do was not say too much. I just kind of wanted to win everybody over by showing them my work ethic. It’s hard to do when you’re in fall camp because the QB’s wear white jerseys and we don’t get hit. We just kind of throw, and so I just stayed quiet the first couple of weeks that I was here. I remember Ryan Thurn doing snaps, and he looked over at some of the OL, and he said, for me to hear it, “is that dude ever going to talk?” That cracked me up, because I was thinking that I didn’t want to be taken as somebody who knew too much and talked that way.”
“I will talk plenty. But, there are so many movies and TV shows where a transfer comes in from a bigger school and thinks he’s a hot shot; I do not want to give that impression. I’m really not that kind of person. I feel like I’m pretty humble. I just wanted to earn the respect of the guys by working hard, and showing them what I could do on the field being a football player; I kind of won them over from there.”
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DIVISION I AND II?
“Besides the obvious of playing in front of 80,000 people and stadium size, football is football. But, I only started one game at Clemson. I was used to it all, but when I came back from my injury, the only time I played was in blow outs. I played a little in 2009 when Coach (Dabo) Swinney was trying to decide between me and Kyle. We switched off series for a few games. But, the biggest difference between the two levels is the offensive and defensive lines. At the D I schools, the OL averages 6-5 and 300 pounds. They are just much bigger than Division II. However, one thing that is the same, is the defensive players in Division II hit just as hard. If you play the option offense, you get hit pretty hard.”
HAS NORTH GREENVILLE MET YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
“It’s been a
blast. I could not have asked for a
better experience at NGU. I went
from three years of nothing going right for me on the field with the injuries, to
being told you’re not good enough to play, and then you come to a place with a
coach that believes in you and gives you the opportunity to play. Then, on top of all that, things start
going well again. We were 9-3 last
year, but people said the big thing was ‘you’re not playing any good
competition. To prove them wrong,
we come back this year and start out 6-2 and go 5-1 against SAC schools. And we beat an institutional powerhouse
Carson Newman, so it’s all been unbelievable.”
“I’ve enjoyed every single second of it at NGU. I got along with my teammates at Clemson and with the guys at Marshall for the small time I was there, but there is a different type of player in a D II locker room. There is only 20 scholarships, and a lot of the guys don’t get any scholarship dollars. They lean on academic money, and don’t come from great family backgrounds, so the guys you practice with in that locker room practice every single day, play on game day, and then work on Sunday. Our guys just absolutely love playing the game of football and being competitive. I just can’t say enough about North Greenville; it’s been an amazing experience for me.”
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT NGU?
“It would definitely be the moment after we won the Victory Bowl. I think I was getting interviewed by Gil Fitzpatrick of the Greer Citizen, and I was kind of late getting over to the scoreboard for the picture. When I think back on it, I will always remember that image; seeing everyone up there near the scoreboard. It was the culmination of a great 9-3 season, and seeing all these guys that I’ve gotten close to over the past four months, and everything that transpired during camp, throughout the season and all the way to the championship. All those stick out in my mind. Hopefully, we’ll have another one like that.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FUNNIEST MOMENTS PLAYING QB AT NGU?
“I remember trying to learn the plays quickly last year, and in some games, I didn’t have a clue what all the plays were, so Coach Chadwell would have to yell them in to me. That was funny, but I picked it up pretty quick. I think I keep my cool pretty good, but sometimes we’d be waiting for Coach Chadwell to call a play and it would get down to five or six seconds left and we’re still waiting … He deserves most of the credit for our success though.”
I think a couple of guys made reference to me being like Ronnie ‘Sunshine’ Bass from Remember the Titans. I took the joke, but I didn’t like it too much.”
DEFINE WILLY KORN AS A PLAYER
“I would say that I am competitor. Prior to the season, the seniors got up before the team and one by one, we all told our story, and I said that what motivates me is competition. It doesn’t matter if you and I are going to go and play thumb war, tick tack toe or shoot hoops; it doesn’t matter what it is. If you beat me, I’m going to be mad; I’ll want to fight you. That comes from me and my brother Colton, who is a senior at Byrnes this year. Growing up together, I would win most of the competitions, whether it was video games or baseball. We were all ultra-competitive and I think that is something that kind of defines me on the field; I just do whatever it takes to win.”
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED DURING YOUR COLLEGE CAREER?
“Everything during my high school career at Byrnes went as well as possible. I won state championships, won some awards, and got the big scholarship to Clemson by playing well. But, the Clemson and Marshall things did not go well. I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if things had worked out perfect at Clemson. I would have started for three years and everything would have been perfect, but different.”
Ten years down the road, the way things worked out with me coming to North Greenville, I have learned a lot more about myself and how to manage adversity, how to persevere, and how to fight through tough times. There were a lot of times I thought about quitting football. Before I transferred here, I said I don’t think I want to go to Marshall. I said I’ll just quit and work at Applebee’s. But, I did figure it out. Ten years from now, when I’ve got a family of my own, I’m hopefully coaching somewhere, and these are the things I’ll be able to take with me away from NGU. I’ve learned a lot more and grown a lot more here as a person as opposed to if everything would have gone perfectly.”
WHAT ARE WILLY KORN’S FAVORITES?
· Favorite Food - I love Thai food. When I first saw the Thai and I restaurant in Tigerville the first week I was here, I was like, ‘man there’s Thai food here!? -- I was meant to be here!’ I’ve also heard of the Thaicoon over in TR. I’ve got to try that one soon.
· Favorite Band - the Goo Goo Dolls, a 90’s alternative rock band that gets me going.
· Favorite Book - Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. It’s about a guy who played in the NFL, and kind of had some injuries, and he goes and plays in an Italian League. I felt like I could really relate to it having played at Clemson, and then going to a smaller school and playing football.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR WILLY?
The plan is to graduate from NGU in December. I want to try to keep playing, so I’m going to keep training here, and at a place in Easley that a friend works out at. I’ve got a buddy at Clemson where I can go and work there. I’ve talked to Coach Swinney about it and he said I can still come to their pro day as well. He lets guys come and try out even if they’ve left for smaller schools. So, I’m going to try that first. I’ve got an opportunity, and you never know. All you need is one guy to like you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the NFL either. I could play Canadian too, or in a phenomenal indoor arena.”
“I’d like to go into coaching. That’s something I thought I’ve wanted to do. I graduated from Clemson with a communication studies degree, and I’ve done broadcasting here at NGU, and had an internship for the summer at a TV station, so that’s something I might pursue as well. The fallback plan if coaching doesn’t work is broadcasting. So, if I end up coaching and get fired, all former coaches go on to do broadcasting, right?”
KORN’S SUCCESS STORY ISN’T FINISHED
The Willy Korn story at North Greenville University is by no means finished. Following the Catawba game, Korn will lead the Crusaders to Wingate University on November 5, and he will finish up his regular season college career on Saturday, Nov. 12 in Tigerville against the College of Notre Dame from Ohio. Where the story ends really doesn’t matter. He most likely will still prove to be the most valuable walk on ever at NGU. And, Korn’s success is a testimony that God does answer all kinds of prayers.