Shaquille Joyner, a 6'1" 220 pound junior at Chicago Simeon, is no stranger to physicality when it comes to defense. Considered a hard hitter by many of his teammates, Joyner doesn't shy away from contact. He emulates many of the linebackers he watches in order to improve his game.
"I play at middle linebacker. It wasn't much of a change from defensive end to MLB. I had to adjust to DE more than MLB when I got moved there last year. I study film of some of the best linebackers. Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, and Brian Urlacher are some of the guys I watch. And I listen to my coach since he knows what he's talking about."
Under the tutelage of many of the older players, Joyner is still developing his game. Lately he has been focusing on becoming a more disciplined and smooth linebacker.
"I've been working on footwork. I have good feet, but I need to be quicker to be ready for the next level."
He has the necessary tools to make that happen. Joiner runs a 4.7 second 40-yard dash and showed that when he returned a fumble for over 60 yards against Lane Tech for a touchdown.
When he's not the one recovering and returning fumbles, he's often the one causing them.
"I'm good in pass coverage, I can catch pretty well. Most colleges like to throw the ball in the area I'm covering. Most of the time I get a pretty big hit too. I forced a fumble against Morgan Park and Curie and two against Dunbar. Last year I had about nine."
Joyner's main goals don't focus entirely on football, but rather emphasize being a complete individual both on and off of the field.
"In school I want to score about a 23 on the ACT with a 3.5 GPA. I want people to know me for more than football and be an all-around good guy. On the field, I want to be the guy that helps lead the team to a state championship and be the first CPL team to win one."
Joyner hasn't always been at Simeon, but the transition wasn't difficult and proved to work out for the best.
"I transferred from Hales Franciscan freshman year. The first game there I played varsity, but after I found out about their freshman rule (that freshmen can't play varsity in Catholic League) I could only play freshman football."
Like many, Joyner is optimistic about progressing through the football ranks. But he also has an idea of what he'd like to be if football doesn't become a profession.
"Hopefully I'll make it to the League, but if not I'd like to be an electrician. I'll be looking to see how graduation requirements are at different schools and how many people graduate on time and don't have any problems."
Joyner hasn't heard much from colleges yet since this year is his first with considerable exposure, but he already has a few schools in mind that he'd like to learn more about.
"Illinois, Michigan, Miami, Alabama, Oregon, Purdue."
"I'd say if I could help out my home state school, I'd love to do it. I just like the intensity of the crowd and how they treated me like I was a part of them, like I was at home. Plus, Juice Williams went there and he's like a cousin to me. We grew up together playing for the same team."
Joyner was impressed enough with the program that he'd like to come back and see the Illini in action again.
"I think they've just been talking to my coach so far. I'm going to see if they'll let me go to a couple other games depending on how many tickets they get."
For now, however, recruiting takes a back seat to his team, which is in hot pursuit of its goal of a state championship. Simeon is on a "Campaign to Champaign," and Joyner is a key cog in the Simeon machine. They didn't make it this year, but next year holds much promise.
"It starts in practice. The more we push each other, the better off we'll be in the game. We're working harder and longer than a lot of teams in the state.
"And I feel personally that nobody works harder than us. It's extreme hard in practice. Executing in practices makes us execute better in the game. One of the best offenses pushes one of the best defenses."
It's still early, but Shaq Joyner has already begun to make a name for himself and establish himself as a defensive force in the state of Illinois.