He was just a tough, hard-nosed kid who grew up in the Bronx and played ball on the playground. Basketball, not football, was the main sport on his mind.
Later, that would all change, and Virginia Tech football fans are certainly happy that it did. Former Virginia Tech safety Willie Pile, who played from 1998-2002, didn’t get his first taste of football until his freshman year of high school after he had moved to northern Virginia.
“When you live up north at that point, there wasn’t a lot of football being played, it was basketball,” Pile said. “I just assumed and knew that I was going to be a basketball player. I was the only child for the first 10 years, and with football you kind of need someone else to throw the ball to. You need somebody else to play with. With basketball, it was just me and a basketball.
“When I got to high school, my friends were like, ‘We’re going to play football to get ready for basketball season.’ I was like I’ll try it. I got out there and they gave me the helmet with the bar down the middle, the oversized shoulder pads, the high-top cleats. I was out there looking all wrong. I just had a great year and first coach. That’s what sparked the love.”
Back in Blacksburg
And so it all began at West Potomac High School where Pile’s football career was launched. An exceptional athlete, Pile wanted to emulate Jerry Rice and play wide receiver, but instead got his start in football at the quarterback position. From there, Pile’s athleticism was noted, and it was his junior year where everything exploded, and college coaches came calling.
Pile and Virginia Tech were a match from the beginning. He came to Blacksburg in 1998, redshirted, and then didn’t have much of a role when the Hokies marched all the way to the National Championship Game in 1999. Heading into the 2000 season, Pile was expected to dive into a starting role at free safety. He was amped up to start his first game in Lane Stadium. The Hokies had just unveiled the newest stadium entrance with Metallica’s Enter Sandman blaring over the speakers for the first time. However, the actual action on the field wasn’t meant to be, as the matchup against Georgia Tech was cancelled due to the nasty thunder and lightning, the last time a Virginia Tech game had been cancelled before the East Carolina game this weekend.
“That was crazy because I remember shooting the promo,” Pile said. “They kind of showed us in the locker room putting on helmets. It really looked like a sitcom, Family Matters style but with Enter Sandman playing in the background. We come out and we’re hype. GameDay was there with Herbstreit and Corso. All of that was going through our head. I’m trying to get into a routine as a starter vs. as a backup. I was ready. The lightning comes and we’re thinking we should be OK for a little bit. Then when Corso’s car got hit, and everyone is like, ‘Yeah, it’s not going to happen.’ It was just a wave of disappointment for everybody.
“You have to think, that 2000 team, we had just lost all of those star players on defense. We have a lot of guys in different positions that are going to make their first start. It was like eight new starters. We go out there and we don’t get to show the world what we can do. It reminded me of a couple weekends ago when they played Florida State. It was a bunch of new guys, and people didn’t really know about them. They step on the field and it’s like, oh shoot, these guys can play. They’ve been coached up, they’re athletic enough, they’re physical enough. They get out there and make plays. I saw the same thing against Florida State that we saw 18 years ago in 2000 when we played our first game eventually.”
Pile exhibited why Virginia Tech has become synonymous with DBU over the years. He racked up 15 interceptions and collected 267 tackles over his four years as a Hokie. Over that time, there were a few games that Pile still reminisces about. As a Texan now, Pile likes to talk about the 2002 game against Texas A&M where the Hokies went into Kyle Field and came out with a 13-3 victory. He thinks back to the 22-14 win over Syracuse in 2000 from the Carrier Dome, where he pulled down three interceptions. But his fondest memory is the opening game of the 2000 season vs. Akron, where Pile and his teammates were finally able to show their abilities following the cancellation the week before.
“I would say that my favorite, most memorable moment was my first ever game,” Pile said. “I go out there in my first college start and I get a pick-six, I get a bunch of tackles, force fumble. I was like, ‘Man, if this is what college football is like, sign me up because I’m making the most of my opportunities.’ Those are all great memories, but Akron, first career start, getting a pick-six, kind of like ‘Hey, I’m here now.’ My family was in the stands. They said ‘we saw this in high school and now he’s doing it at a level he said he was going to do it at.’ That validated all the work we had put going into that.”
Pile loves to credit his teammates and explain how he was able to be a small part in all those wins that he mentioned, but there was one moment that had to be brought up first before he talked about it. That would be the 97-yard pick-six off a pass to Ken Dorsey in the 56-45 loss to Miami in 2002.
“That play was crazy, and it would have been higher on my most memorable moments, but notice I only spoke about the wins,” Pile said. “If football was an individual game like golf or tennis and I could talk about that one shot, then that would be my moment for me, Willie personally. People will recall that play as they tried to get Dorsey his Heisman moment. Ken rolls out and throws it back to the other side. I was disciplined and coached to make the play. I picked it off and it started a mini-rally. I also remember the mishaps. Not filling the gap on Willis McGahee, not keeping contain on the reverse play, not breaking down on Andre Johnson. Little stuff on defense that I recall and doesn’t bring back the most fun memories.”
Football as a Vehicle for Life
While his Virginia Tech career would come to an end, Pile’s career in football was still just beginning. Pile was drafted in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003. He bounced around on the practice squad and spent time in NFL Europe before signing with the Cowboys in 2005. The rangy and hard-hitting safety made a move to linebacker when he switched over to the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts. Pile spent five seasons in Toronto before eventually retiring from football in 2012.
It left Pile with a predicament. Where would his next phase of life take him? At first, Pile anticipated that he would get into athletic administration, so he began taking Master’s courses. However, a couple of texts from former teammates began to reveal a different path.
“Towards the end (of my career), I started thinking about my transition, what I wanted to do,” Pile said. “I started getting teammates texting, telling me they were coming down to Texas in the offseason and we should train. I started getting guys who were coming to visit and guys who were living here. I organized workouts and put them through it. They were like, ‘That was a real good workout, let’s do it again.’ That little spark created a mindset for a business.”
Pile received phone calls from other trainers who wanted him to help with guys who were preparing for the NFL draft. The former seventh round draft pick had been through the process of going through pro days and the combine himself, so he was able to share the same knowledge and teaching with several draft eligible players. With the help of Pile, those players went on to have successful football careers.
“I thought, man, this could be a business,” Pile said “I branched out on my own because I wanted a have a little more focus on youth athletes… I shut it down and said I wanted to start training athletes after that experience.”
That’s where FASST Performance & Fitness came into existence in 2014 where Pile was placed in Southlake, Texas. FASST trains athletes as young as six-years-old all the way to professional based upon the five tenets of footwork, agility, speed, strength, and technique. Pile turned down multiple coaching opportunities in the CFL and college because he believed in helping athletes achieve their dreams through sports performance.
“In almost every sport that you can think of has, [they have] those measures involved,” Pile said. “It allowed me to create workouts for the soccer athlete, the football athlete, for the baseball, for the basketball, for the lacrosse, so I didn’t pigeon hole myself into just working with football athletes even though that’s where I started. Then, the business started to grow even more to where I worked with club teams and select teams, and I’m working with world-class athletes. I’m able to expand my reach in terms of my vision for what work looks like.”
Pile relies on his past experience as an athlete battling through the ups and the downs to help train these aspiring athletes who hope to be in the same shoes he once was. For Pile, it’s about so much more than just the physical training he can provide.
“We not only train the physical aspect, but we train the mindset,” Pile said. “How you have to be confident and consistent each time you step out in your athletic endeavors. Not just the physical part, but also the mindset of being a winner, being a champion, learning how to finish, learning how to fight through adversity. If anybody had it, I had it in terms of injury, getting released, making the team and all those things. I faced it all, so I’m able to share and go where those kids haven’t been yet. I kind of give them a little bit of a blueprint and a roadmap to success. We have some kids who are going to be doing some amazing things here. You can see they’re on that path to really being special.”
FASST is now in its fourth year and Pile is enjoying the ride. He’s in an area of north Texas where sports are king, and he’s seeing the business grow each day. Down the line, Pile wants to expand to more training through online resources, or through app development to extend his brand’s footprint.
He’s also enjoying the ride with his growing family. Him and his wife Keia have been married since 2006 and they have two sons, Jaylen (10-year-old) and Brycen (2-year-old). Jaylen is now in his second year of tackle football with his dad coaching on the sidelines, making it his mission to demonstrate how sports can be a vehicle for some of life’s greatest lessons.