Marcos de Niza cornerback Priest Willis, the top-rated recruit in the East Valley, verbally committed to UCLA in a press conference at the school Wednesday night.
The All-Tribune first-team selection chose the Bruins over Louisiana State and Arizona State. Willis came to the decision shortly after his official visit to Westwood last weekend and then slept on it for two days.
“I felt it in my heart,” Willis said.
Willis said the final visit helped convince his mom it was a good place for him. Once he returned, he was ready to end the recruiting process.
“(UCLA) got that last bite,” Marcos de Niza coach Roy Lopez said.
He is rated a five-star recruit and the fourth best cornerback in the country by Scout.com. Willis had dozens of scholarship offers, including Florida State, Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon and several other high-profile programs in addition to his finalists.
Willis was set to announce his college choice at the Under Armour All-Star Game on Jan. 4 but delayed it when he couldn’t come to a decision. He made the announcement in the front entrance of the Marcos de Niza gym, flanked by his mom, step-dad, two-year-old sister and football coaches.
Willis said there was never one big moment when UCLA became the favorite in his mind.
“Honestly, it was just back and forth, back and forth,” he said. “It was one of the hardest decisions of my life.”
Willis had 55 tackles and two interceptions in 2012. The Padres finished the year 11-2 and made the Division II semifinals.
The Bruins also have secured verbal commitments from Mountain Pointe offensive lineman Kenny Lacy and Peoria Centennial running back Jalen Ortiz.
While other programs have pledged to still recruit Willis up until the Feb. 6 Signing Day, he said his decision is final. Despite an offer list that can make people dizzy, Willis is content with the decision.
“The opportunity (at UCLA), some people overlook it, but I didn’t,” he said. “I saw what they could do for me and what I could do for them.”