When linebacker Patrick Willis announced his surprise retirement from the NFL more than 14 months ago, he did not look back.
Willis watched some NFL highlights and tuned in to catch glimpses of games during his first season away from the sport, according to a Mashable profile this week.
"I don't want to rest on what I've done and let that keep me from doing what I want to do," Willis said. "I'd rather be reading something or diving into something and trying to figure it out."
Willis, 31, has moved on to work at a tech startup after retiring after an eight-year career that saw him named to the Pro Bowl in his first seven seasons. Willis, who was plagued by foot issues throughout the latter part of his career, opted for season-ending surgery in 2014 after appearing in six games. He never again played football.
"I still respect it," Willis said of the sport. "But my mind is past it."
Approximately two months after announcing his retirement during a press conference at Levi’s Stadium, Willis became a full-time employee at Open Source Storage as executive vice president for partnerships and a board member.
"It just felt like, a lot of times in my other occupation, it was all about you as an individual,” Willis said. “Here, I'm part of a team in a little bit of a different way."
On his LinkedIn profile page, Willis lists his previous employment merely as “San Francisco 49ers.”
The 49ers selected Willis with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Mississippi. He earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and became a perennial Pro Bowl player. He was also chosen first-team All-Pro five times.
"People always told me when I was growing up that if you want to be something great, you have to be this physical specimen that can jump up to here and all that," Willis said.
"For me, this is an opportunity to be able to tell young kids that you can be more than just a physical specimen to be great. I'm a person that can't speak about something until I've done it myself."
Willis appears content facing his new challenges in a completely different arena. In November, he issued a strong denial that he ever considered the possibility of a return to football.
According to the article, it was a chance encounter between Willis and Open Source Storage CEO and founder Eren Niazi that helped Willis land on his feet with immediate employment and challenges outside of the NFL.
The two men lived in the same South Bay neighborhood. Niazi spotted Willis, still recovering from a foot surgery, struggling to move bags from his car to the front door. Niazi assisted his neighbor without knowing Willis’ identity.
"Usually when people walk up to me, they kind of already know who I am and have some motive," Willis said. "But he just insisted like, 'Let me help you with that.' Then he just took off. I thought it was cool."
Niazi and Willis got to know each other better. Eventually, Willis was hired. He now takes part in interviews and helps in the hiring process of the company.
"A lot of guys come in with a big ego, but Patrick’s not like that,” Niazi said. “He's just a total pleasure to work with."
Open Source Storage is a company with about 60 employees. Their products provide storage and technology solutions to other companies.