NFL Starter Abruptly Quits, Leaves Millions On Table, To Play For The Big Coach
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Indianapolis Colts Safety Khari Willis (37) lines up for a play during the NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Indianapolis Colts on September 19, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

A starting NFL player is answering the big coach’s call.

Khari Willis, a three-year safety for the Indianapolis Colts, and a player who was expected to be a returning starter for the playoff contender, abruptly announced his retirement Wednesday to become a minister.

“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, 26, wrote in an Instagram post. “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, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Michigan State and became a starter during his rookie season, had a base salary of $850,000 last season. But he would have seen a huge jump in salary when his rookie contract expires at the end of the coming season, or the Colts would likely have offered to extend it this year at a premium of several times. Willis finishes his career with 219 tackles and four interceptions.

“I am both humbled and excited to pursue the holy call that God has for my life which brings me much joy and purpose,” he said. “Thank you all for your support over the years.”

The team will be left trying to fill a hole in its secondary, but Head Coach Frank Reich said Willis has his respect.

“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. “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.”

The Colts are are expected to look to veteran Rodney McLeod and rookie third-round pick Nick Cross to fill the void left by Willis. The team also could pursue a free agent to take Willis’ spot in the lineup.

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