- Scott Halleran/Getty
San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis shocked the NFL world in March 2015 when he announced that, at the age of 30, he was retiring from football.
“Honestly, I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around like they’ve got no hips and they can’t play with their kids. They can barely walk,” Willissaidin his retirement press conference. “People see that and they feel sorry, but they don’t realize it’s because he played a few extra years.”
Although Willis had struggled with injuries, his decision came out of nowhere.Willis had played for eight seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl seven times.
By all accounts he was one of the best defenders in the league. Nobody expected him to hang up his cleats altogether. Nor did anyone have any idea how he would spend his retirement.
But as Mashable’s Sam Laird explains in an excellent feature on the former 49er, when Willis announced his retirement he already had plans in motion to reinvent himself in nearby Silicon Valley.
Fast forward to the present and Willis is a successful tech executive, with the wardrobe and LinkedIn Premium account (500+ endorsements, obviously) to boot.
- Patrick Willis/LinkedIn
Two months after Willis retired, he joined Open Source Storage, a storage and infrastructure company used by other companies, as a board member and executive vice president for partnerships. As Laird explains it, Willis happened upon the company because its founder and CEO, Eren Niazi, was his neighbor and once helped him unload his car, having no idea Willis was an all-world NFL talent.
“Usually when people walk up to me, they kind of already know who I am and have some motive,” Willis recalled this week. “But he just insisted like, ‘Let me help you with that.’ Then he just took off. I thought it was cool.”
The rest, as they say, is history. The duo appears to get along swimmingly:
Hearing Willis and Niazi discuss their working relationship – after years of watching Willis deliver bone-crushing NFL hits – is surreal.
Here’s Niazi: “A lot of guys come in with a big ego, but Patrick’s not like that. He’s just a total pleasure to work with.”
And now Willis: “It just felt like, a lot of times in my other occupation, it was all about you as an individual. Here, I’m part of a team in a little bit of a different way.”
Willis certainly seems to be enjoying his second act. It’s a world away from the swanky, “Ballers” lifestyle we are conditioned to imagine from retired professional athletes, but Willis is, after all, only 31.
You can read the full story over at Mashable.