Indianapolis Colts safety Khari Willis has a new playbook. It’s called the Bible.
Willis has announced his retirement from the National Football League to pursue a calling to ministry. His decision was announced Thursday on Instagram after only three years in professional football.
Willis, a father of twin boys born prematurely, walks away at just 26, having been poised to earn millions more from an NFL job. But he said he is at peace with making the jump to his new career.
“With much prayer and deliberation, I have elected to officially retire from the NFL as I endeavor to devote the remainder of my life to the further advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Willis wrote in text superimposed on a picture of his Colts jersey.
“I thank all of my family, friends and those who have supported me on this journey thus far and I look forward to your continued support through the next phase of my life.”
Willis’ decision was bittersweet for Colts Head Coach Frank Reich, also a devoted believer.
“We’re thankful and appreciative of Khari’s contributions to the Colts both on and off the field over the last three seasons,” Reich said in a statement on ESPN.com, with a special nod to Willis’ contributions on and off the field.
“Khari’s character, leadership, and professionalism will be missed in our locker room as will his play on Sundays. I admire and respect his decision to transition into the next stage of his life and ministry, and my prayers will always be with him.”
A likely lucrative free agent contract was just a year away for Willis. He passed up that, and the adulation of fans, for the joy and purpose that comes from responding to his Christian calling.
“I am both humbled and excited to pursue the holy call that God has for my life, which brings me much joy and purpose,” Willis wrote on Instagram. “Thank you all for your support over the years …”.
The 2019 NFL draft pick became a first-year starter, finishing his shortened career with 33 starts in 39 games, 219 tackles, 3.5 sacks and four interceptions. He became a vital cog in the Colts’ defense, easily surpassing the typical expectations of a fourth-round pick. The Colts clearly saw his potential coming out of Michigan State University, trading up 20 spots to draft him.
No indication was given about immediate plans for the future for Willis, only that he planned to pursue a life in ministry.
While life in the NFL can be fleeting, Willis has made a decision he hopes will have eternal impact.