Linebacker Joe Staley has been named as a starter to the Pro Bowl. It's his second year in a row going to the Pro Bowl, and his first as a starter.
Willis realized he had missed a call from his head coach while checking out at a Target in Foster City, during the team's annual Shop with a Player event.
"He got me nervous," said Willis. "Anytime I see a call from a coach on my day off, you get nervous. My heart was beating fast when I heard Singletary on my voice mail. I was like uh-oh, something is not right, but I thought he just wanted to talk about how we need to finish these last two weeks."
Willis called his coach and after a few seconds of listening, his face broke into an enormous grin.
"Aw man, you serious coach? Who-hee. I've got to walk for a second," said Willis to Singletary.
The two then spoke for about five more minutes before Willis hung up and shared the news.
"I just officially found out that I made the Pro Bowl," said Willis. "Thank god, thank my teammates, my coaches and the fans who voted for me. I really appreciate it. I'm shocked. I really didn't think I was going to make it back this year."
Willis has been ranked in the top five of the NFL for total tackles for most of the season, and currently is listed as third with 122 stops. He leads the 49ers in tackles with 159 stops, according to coaching statistics.
But with his numbers not up to where they were last year when he led the 49ers with 226 tackles, the second-year linebacker truly didn't believe he'd receive the honor.
"This year wasn't up to par from a team aspect or an individual one," said Willis. "Whatever happened I knew I was going to hit this offseason hard so that I could come back next year bigger, stronger, faster and more focused. I was thinking I can't let this same thing happen next year. I already had myself thinking like that because I just knew t wasn't going to happen for me."
The team's leading tackler still made an enormous impact on his team, and based on Tuesday's news, apparently the rest of the NFL. In his second year in the NFL, Willis had one sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, a team-high 11 passes defensed, and an interception returned for an 86-yard touchdown against the Seahawks in week two.
And not having the gross amount of tackles that he did last year was a sign of good things from his offense.
"It's not been because of me not going out there and playing hard, but things were different this year," said Willis. "I'm thankful for the offense and them putting up points and taking time off the clock. When that happens, that limits your opportunity to go out there and make plays and make things happen and what not. So a lot of that is due to them and if I hadn't make it back, people would have said I had a down year and my stats weren't there, but I would have said my offense came alive and found their groove and next year we'll just build on that."
Willis said he would normally call his dad Chris first to share the news, but decided he'd let his foster care father see the news for himself online.
"We talked about it the other day and I told him I didn't think it was going to happen so I think I'll let him be surprised like I was and call me," explained Willis.
Instead of making phone calls to spread the word, Willis quickly turned his focus back to the three young kids who were each fortunate enough to enjoy spending $250 gift cards from Visa, with a little extra thrown in from the Pro Bowl linebacker.
"I really want to just run around this store right now celebrating, but it's not about me," said Willis. "I have to get back to my partners right now and finish up."
Willis does plan to bring his dad and mom over to Hawaii again this year, and hopefully some of his other siblings as well.
And now that he knows what to expect, he can't wait.
"Last year it was my first time going, so this year it'll be just going back and understanding what it's like, just the whole camaraderie of meeting players from other teams," said Willis. "I'm just excited right now. I really didn't think I was going back."
Fast forward another month and a half, and he'll be back on the island alright. And maybe this time, he'll catch a fish without the help of his deep sea-fishing guides.
"This time I'm not going to get sick out on the water, and I'm not getting out-fished."
The 49ers also had a few players named as alternates, including running back Michael Robinson for special teams, returner Allen Rossum, punter Andy Lee and tight end Vernon Davis. Robinson and Rossum are both second alternates, while Lee and Davis are third alternates.