A lot can change in one year. Joe Staley witnessed that first-hand when he stepped on what will soon be the future playing surface of the San Francisco 49ers.
Willis, San Francisco's six-time Pro Bowl linebacker, toured the future home of the 49ers this week to learn more about the project that is now officially 365 days old. Friday, April 19, marks the one-year anniversary of the new Santa Clara Stadium's groundbreaking. The ceremony was also attended by the All-Pro linebacker.
"To be here with you all is truly a blessing," Willis said last April. "We're going to make this thing tremendous when it's all said and done."
Almost one year later, Willis walked through the construction on the south end of the building and on to the field where he'll play for the 49ers. As soon as Willis stepped foot into the stadium's south end zone, the rapid pace of the construction truly sunk in for the standout linebacker.
"Man," Willis said in amazement, "there was nothing here."
The 49ers linebacker has witnessed the construction throughout the 2012 football season and into this year while working out at the team's Santa Clara facility, but this was the first time he walked through the stadium site.
The project, now 35 percent of the way complete, still seems surreal to Willis. San Francisco's star play-maker on defense never knew it would be constructed so fast. He certainly didn't expect to see glass installation taking place on the suite tower side of the building.
"It's crazy," San Francisco's defensive co-captain said. "I remember being here when it was nothing. It was ground and an audience."
The 49ers linebacker is no stranger to hard work, but he couldn't help but remark about the speed in which the project has progressed.
"To see all this now, it makes me a little nervous that people can work that fast and put something up this big," Willis said with a smile. "It looks phenomenal."
Back when the 49ers and City of Santa Clara held a ceremony to break ground on the future home of the team, Willis was honored to be a part of the celebration.
He felt the same way when touring the ground this week with project executive Jack Hill.
"Like I said at the groundbreaking, I hope I'm fortunate enough to play in this stadium for a little while," Willis said. "It looks miraculous."
The 49ers linebacker also was moved by the support he received from the on-site construction workers which have grown to more than 1,000 contributors per day on the project.
Many applauded Willis when they saw the 49ers linebacker enter the stadium wearing a hardhat and safety goggles.
"They were yelling my name so it makes me feel proud," Willis said. "We have some great fans and the guys doing the work on this, they have to be the best of the best."
As an instinctual football player, one that is able to quickly decipher what opposing offenses are doing, it's hard to get anything past Willis on the field.
Off the field, Willis has taken a similar interest on the future home of the 49ers. Despite being awestruck by the development of the building, Willis asked his tour guide about the environmentally friendly aspects of the stadium.
"It's going to be the first stadium built like that?" Willis asked Hill.
"Yeah," Hill replied. "The goal we're trying to achieve, you would have things like a green roof, recycled water and we'd use a geothermal field for energy. We've used a lot of energy-saving measures…We've done a lot of things to make this a sustainable project."
Hill also added, "We think we'll be the first stadium that'll achieve this level when it opens up."
Seeing the progress first-hand gave Willis a sense of how close the stadium is from becoming a reality. At the start of 2014, the 49ers will begin playing at their new home field.
Willis can't wait for it either.
"The thing I look forward to the most is being able to kick-off in this stadium, take the field as the captain of the defense and bring home the first win in a new stadium," he said. "That would make everything."
In 2014, the 49ers will welcome divisional opponents Arizona, St. Louis, Seattle, plus Philadelphia, Washington, Kansas City, San Diego and an NFC North team to be determined based on 2013 records.