Bland provides interesting persona for Lions football squad

Senior defensive end Willie Bland stands on his “hoverboard” with a football in hand before UNA’s football practice Oct. 6. Bland, who is able to play multiple positions for the Lions, is not hard to miss with his hair colors and large stature.

If reaching for the stars is a goal for senior defensive end Willie Bland, he should have no problem.

The 6’7’’ junior college transfer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of the tallest players on the football team. Bland, before making the decision to transfer from Fort Scott Community College to play football, played semi-pro basketball for the Columbus Crush.

“It was a pretty good experience.,” he said. “Columbus is a small town (compared to Cincinnati), so it was a really tight fan base. Kids wanted autographs and pictures, so I felt like a role model.”

Bland said although he is good at basketball and loves the sport, his passion is on the gridiron.

Joining the team as a defensive end, Bland switched to offense as a tight end in the middle of last season. Since UNA has depth at tight end in 2015, Bland swapped back to defensive end after UNA’s 34-12 win over Valdosta State.

Bland said being back on defense is a homecoming for him.

“It was hard changing to offense at first,” Bland said. “I had good coaching to help me learn offense. But I’m happy to be back on defense. I’ve always been a defensive guy, and switching to tight end was the only time I’ve ever played anything else.”

Defensive line coach Gabe Poe, who played with Bland in 2013 before becoming a coach, said he was happy to hear the news that Bland was coming back to defense.

“It means a lot to have him back,” Poe said. “He’s an experienced guy who’s played defensive end before. He’s still getting acclimated to what we do again. When he’s ready to go, I think he will see some snaps.”

Junior Tyler Smith, a defensive end for the Lions, said having Bland’s leadership on their side of the ball is helpful.

“It was kind of weird going up against him on the other side of the ball (in practice),” Smith said. “I feel like he really fit in with us (on defense). It’s good to have his senior leadership and experience.”

Inside the locker room, Smith said Bland is a man of few words, but when he speaks, people listen.

“He’s a very cool, laid back kind of guy,” Smith said. “He doesn’t say much, but his presence and leadership mean a lot to this team.”

On campus, Bland is not hard to miss. If his towering height does not give him away, his unique hair styles may do the trick.

Bland said during football season, he dyes his hair purple for school spirit. In October, Bland dyes his hair pink in support of breast cancer awareness, a cause that is personal to him.

“I don’t just do it to draw attention to myself or to be different,” he said. “I feel like I am a direct representative of someone who fought that battle and won, and that’s my mother.”

As if Bland was not already noticeable enough, many people point out the “hoverboard” he rides around campus, something he enjoys doing in his spare time.

“I just wanted a new toy,” he said. “You’re never too grown to have fun. The moment I saw it, knew I wanted to get one. It actually comes in handy with how bad parking is on campus.”

After graduation, Bland intends on continuing his playing career as a football or basketball player, or beginning his coaching career.

“If I can get paid to play sports, I’m all for it,” he said. “I do want to finish my education, so I can do something else I love, which is coaching and working with kids.”

Bland and the Lions look to roll to victory against North Carolina-Pembroke during homecoming Oct. 17.