Mark Willis describes himself as a football junkie.

When he’s not playing for Wyoming, there’s a decent chance he’s studying film or cheering on his Chicago Bears.

So, when he was injured midseason last year in a loss at TCU and forced to miss the rest of the season, the situation ate at him.

“It was really rough because I had to watch and couldn’t get in on anything,” the Pokes sophomore defensive end said. “But it gave me the opportunity to just see the whole defense that we’re running and learn it and just get everything down.”

Looking back, watching the defense from a different angle may have been a blessing.

Willis is now back healthy, has added 20 pounds to his tall frame and is earning playing time with the top defensive unit.

With senior end Josh Biezuns sitting out during Tuesday’s third fall scrimmage, Willis earned an even bigger opportunity and rose to the challenge, finishing with three tackles — two of them for a loss — and a quarterback sack.

“Mark’s had a tremendous camp,” Christensen said. “He went through a lot of hardships last year with some injury issues and some health issues.

“He can really go. He’s such a great conditioned athlete for a long, lanky guy. To continue to block up front for guys, he’s really going to make it difficult.”

Willis showed some of that in his limited time as a freshman in 2010.

He played in six games, finishing with just four tackles, but among them were 1.5 sacks and another half-tackle for loss.

And Willis showed more of the same during Tuesday’s scrimmage, which will likely make it hard for the coaching staff to keep him off the field, particularly in pass-rushing situations.

“He’s a smart football player and it was just killing him to be out in the spring,” defensive line coach Danilo Robinson said. “He’s just come back and every day has grown. He’s put himself in position to have a chance to get on the field.

“He’s playing himself into a role on this team.”

After sitting out the second half of last season and all of spring camp, that’s all that Willis could ask for.

“I’m just getting an opportunity with the one and making the best of my opportunity,” Willis said.

Contact sports reporter Eric Schmoldt at eric.schmoldt@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @ericschmoldt. Check out his blog at trib.com/cowboys.

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