Tyshon Waller knew after his sophomore football season ended that he had a shot to do something every high school athlete dreams about: play for a Division 1 school. If his visit to the University of Illinois recently says anything, that dream could become a reality right here in Memorial Stadium.
Waller, a 6'-2", 223-pound junior defensive end for Thornwood High School in South Holland, Illinois, earned a starting spot on the varsity defensive line in only his second season, an outstanding achievement in a school with an enrollment of more than 2,300.
Lining up against D-1 prospects, many would have expected a slow start. But the sophomore held his own, and by his junior year he was starting to attract a lot of attention. He tallied 49 solo tackles, 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and six QB hurries, earning All-Conference honors and a mention to the All-Area team.
Waller was rewarded for his success with calls from several big name colleges including Illinois, Norte Dame, Arizona State and Columbia.
Illinois's defensive line coach Keith Gilmore has made big strides in getting Waller's attention.
"So far (coach Gilmore and I) are pretty close," Waller said. "I know if I go there, we will bond very well. Having a close relationship with a coach is something I will look for when I choose a college."
Gilmore got Waller to visit the Illinois campus for Junior Day, and Waller walked away impressed.
"I got to view the facilities, meet the coaching staff and get more personal with them, view the equipment and even attend a basketball game against Iowa. I enjoyed the equipment and weight room the most, and the atmosphere at the basketball game was great. There was so much orange."
The visit was so good he has Illinois at the top of his list.
"Right now, it's the highest compared to the three other schools that have shown interest. I have been to Notre Dame before, but I got a lot closer to people with my unofficial visit to U of I."
Waller will look for several key things when it comes to choosing the college he wants to attend, and Illinois has already taken big strides in fulfilling some of those keys.
"When looking for a college, I would like to have a close relationship with coaches and be able to play football but still learn the principals of life that go along with it."
Playing time is something he considers, but it is not a driving factor in his decision.
"I want to play early, but it's not given, so I will have to work up and earn my spot."
Waller has shown great signs of being the type of athlete Vic Koenning's defense is looking for, but he knows that he still has work to do.
"I feel that one of my strengths is that I get off the ball quick, so then I can disrupt plays in the backfield. Also, my strong pass rush is one of my better attributes. But,I know that I still need to be able to read the run quicker, use my hands more and become even quicker off the ball than I already am."
Thornwood finished 4-5 this season, just one win shy of a potential playoff berth. Injuries limited their success, with a sophomore quarterback becoming the starter.
But Waller's winning mentality never went away, and he continued to support the team even through the tough times, which is one of many reasons why he was named a captain of the team as a junior.
"I did things like never missing practice, staying in the weight room and just encouraging and getting my teammates excited," Waller said.
Waller looks forward to next year and sets high standards for both himself and his team next season.
"Personally, my goal is to make all-area and all-conference. Then as a team, my goal is to make a deep playoff run because it's been around a decade since we have even made the playoffs."
As for his recruitment, he will continue to communicate with Illinois and attend their summer camp along with Notre Dame's 7-on-7 and lineman challenge.