Urbana University Athletics announced Tuesday that former student-athlete and UU graduate Chris Willis (‘94) has been selected as this year’s Hall of Fame inductee.
A ceremonial gathering is planned for Homecoming Weekend following the UU football game against UVa-Wise on Saturday, Oct. 6. Former head football coach Don Akers will act as presenter for Willis’ induction.
Willis, a native of Columbus, Ohio, becomes the 40th member of the UU Athletic Hall of Fame. A four-year member of the Blue Knight football program, Willis was hired at NFL Films shortly after graduating with his physical education degree. He has served as Head of the Research Library at NFL Films since 1996.
Dave Ross, a 1976 UU graduate and 2006 Hall of Fame inductee, administered the nomination and selection process.
“We’re delighted to honor a four-year UU student-athlete who became an elite off-the-field professional in his chosen sport,” Ross said. “NFL Films is a dynamic major brand and Chris Willis is a key long-term player in its success.”
NFL Films senior producer Paul Camarata referred to Willis as the “alpha and omega” of the production process, in that every story begins and ends with his guidance.
“For everything from one-minute game recaps to eight-hour documentary series, the company is an industry leader, winner of 126 Sports Emmys to date. And to this success, no one is more indispensable than Chris Willis,” Camarata said.
Besides running the Research Library at NFL Films, Willis has become one of the foremost historians of professional football.
Over the past two decades he has had six books published – with an emphasis on early pro football.
“I thank Urbana University and the Hall of Fame Committee for this great honor,” Willis said. “My time at UU was a tremendous four years of my life. Not only did I get a chance to play college football, but I also received a great education that prepared me for my life after college.
“During my time there I learned plenty of life lessons – and met tons of great people – that I have carried over in my career here with NFL Films. I’m just very humbled to be recognized with such an honor as this. I look forward to Homecoming in October and seeing my Blue Knights play in person.”
Willis earned four letters (1990-1993) as a wide receiver on the Blue Knight football team. In 1991, as a sophomore, Willis started every game and had his best season, finishing second on the team in receptions while earning 1991 All-District 22 Honorable Mention (NAIA member).
In 2011, Urbana University honored Willis with its Alumni Three Arches Award.
The following year, Willis was awarded the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Ralph Hay Award for lifetime achievement in pro football research and historiography.
In 2002, Willis was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the HBO Documentary “The Game of Their Lives: Pro Football in the 1950s.” He then won his first Emmy in 2016 for his work on HBO’s “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Houston Texans.” He has appeared in many television shows and documentaries, including NFL Network’s Top Ten, The Faithful (produced by 49ers Studios) and Before the League (produced by Ohio Time-Warner).