Desoto County News

Patrick Willis Named 2024 Community Foundation Star of Hope 

Photo: Patrick Willis (Provided photo)

The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi has announced Patrick Willis as the recipient of the 2024 Star of Hope award. This prestigious  recognition will be given to Willis at the upcoming Crystal Ball Gala – Shaken, Not Stirred – scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2024, at the Arena at Southaven. 

Patrick Willis, celebrated as one of the greatest linebackers in football history, not only left an indelible mark on the field but continues to make a significant impact off the field. 

As part of his commitment to fostering accessible physical fitness for all youth, Willis established “The Whinker’s Mind Youth Fund,” a philanthropic organization. The fund aims to provide accessible physical fitness opportunities by funding a wide array of all-weather, low-impact, and widely accessible fitness equipment. 

Willis has also generously donated equipment to his alma mater, Central High School in Bruceton, Tennessee, ensuring that the next generation has access to quality fitness resources.

Growing up as the eldest of four siblings in a small town with limited resources, Willis embraced the roles of big brother and mentor to his younger siblings, contributing to his family through various jobs. His standout performance as a multi-sport athlete in high school, including  football, basketball, and baseball, showcased his exceptional skills. 

Despite facing limited scholarship opportunities for Division I college football, a visit to Oxford led Willis to choose Ole Miss, where he made an immediate impact both on and off the field. 

As a true freshman in 2003, Willis excelled in academics and sports, earning the Scholar Athlete Award from the Ole Miss chapter of the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame. 

His prowess as a linebacker in the Southeastern Conference earned him numerous accolades, culminating in his senior season where he won the prestigious Butkus Award as the most outstanding linebacker in college football. 

Willis’ impressive college career paved the way for his selection by the San Francisco 49ers  as the 11th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Throughout his eight-year NFL career, he continued  to showcase his dominance, earning numerous Pro Bowl selections, All-Pro honors, and  solidifying his legacy as one of the most formidable linebackers in the league. 

Despite retiring due to a foot injury in his eighth season, Willis’ impact did not go unnoticed. In 2021, he was inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame, receiving the coveted “Red Jacket.” Additionally, he stands as a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the pinnacle of recognition for a football player. 

Throughout his time with the 49ers, Willis actively engaged in community service, participating in events organized by the 49ers Foundation, which, since 1991, has invested $50 million into historically underserved communities to empower youth. Willis played a crucial role in the Linebacker Toy Giveaway, a tradition among the 49ers linebackers, reflecting his commitment to giving back during the holidays. 

Drawing from his personal experiences of modest means growing up, Willis recognized the profound impact of generosity through a program from his childhood called the Angel Tree  program, a part of the Salvation Army, which provides snacks, food, and Thanksgiving baskets to  those in need. 

Willis, driven by a desire to give back, participated in the Linebacker Toy Giveaway, a cherished tradition among the 49ers linebackers. The program not only provided gifts like 49ers stuffed animals and pajamas but also allowed Willis the opportunity to spend time with kids at hospitals during the holidays, creating cherished memories.  

In addition to his involvement with the Linebacker Toy Giveaway, Willis supported the Trust Your Power initiative through Duracell. Embracing the message that true power comes from within, the initiative encourages individuals to manifest their goals through dedication, consistency, and personal strength. Willis, featured prominently in a Duracell commercial, advanced this empowering message, inspiring others to trust their inner power. 

The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi invites the public to join them in  celebrating Patrick Willis at the Crystal Ball Gala. Tickets and tables are now available at the early  bird price of $175 each and $1,600, respectively, until Jan. 1, when prices will increase to  $200 for tickets and $1,800 for tables. Secure your spot at this prestigious event by visiting

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