Joey Malinowski is the 2016-17 IHSA nominee for the NFHS Spirit of Sport Award:
Motivation as an athlete has always come easy for Joey Malinowski.
The 6-1, 240-pound junior at Central Catholic High Sc
hool in Bloomington begins his summer days at 7:00 a.m. with a two-hour workout. Afternoons are spent cutting grass - the lawncare business he started at 16 years old is up to 13 clients and growing - or working on tractors at a local John Deere store. Work ends at 4:00 p.m. and then it’s time to meet up with teammates to run, pace one another through drills, or practice long snapping.
The hard work has paid off and the accolades have followed.
was named a First Team All-Corn Belt Conference offensive linemen this past fall, while also being honored on the All-Conference Second Team for his work on the defensive side of the ball. He added All-Area honors to his resume and was voted Best Linemen by his teammates. However, his greatest impact and football future lie on special teams, as Joey is currently ranked among the Top 12 long snappers in the country in the class of 2018.
“Dedicated is the first word that comes to mind about Joey,” Central Catholic junior quarterback Max Moews said. “He is always the first guy in the weight room and the film room and the last to leave. It rubs off on his teammates. He is a good example for how to carry yourself.”
Joey has followed his father’s footsteps in his love for the game, as well as in his ability to fire a football 15 yards between his legs in seven tenths of a second. The elder Malinowski long snapped professionally in Germany after an NFL training camp invite from the Chicago Bears, and has been an assistant coach at Central Catholic for over 25 years.
“I used to go to every practice and every game as a kid,” Joey said. “The football players at Central Catholic were role models for me growing up and like family to us. The only thing I ever wanted to do was go to Central Catholic and wear the gold helmet.”
With the gold helmet now in hand, Joey found he had ambition to do more through the game.
“Being a football player isn’t enough,” Joey said. “I don’t want to be remembered for just sports, I want to be remembered what I did through sports.”
Joey wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish that latest goal when he and his father traveled to Wisconsin for the Kohl’s Kicking & Snapping Camp in July, 2016.
One of the reasons Joey enjoyed the camp was because not only did it provide top-notch football instruction, but also routinely featured speakers who talked about the bigger picture in life beyond athletics.
Listening to several speakers on July 25, Joey connected with the words of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz.
“He said that nothing is out of reach if you work hard,” Joey said. “He talked about growing up in a small town and his dream of playing at Nebraska. About how hard he worked as a player and person to represent Nebraska and his family. His message was about how important life is.”
Driving home from the camp that night, Foltz, Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye were involved in a single-car accident. Foltz and Sadler were killed.
“The next morning we knew they were in an accident,” Joey said. “At some point, one of camp instructors called us together and told us the result. It was a no-brainer for me at that instant. I needed to do something to help others.”
A representative from a group called Kick-It for Kids with Cancer
had been among the contingent of speakers the previous day, as the group hoped to recruit kickers and punters to raise money with each of their kicks in the upcoming season. Joey approached the Kick-It
representatives that afternoon. He didn’t kick and he didn’t want to raise money for long snapping (he calls it a negative stat given that his team is giving up the ball), but he did have an idea.
“Since I played defense, I asked if they would let me raise money for each tackle instead of kicks,” Joey said. “Kick-It
was happy to make the exception and I appreciate them giving me that opportunity.”
Upon returning home, Joey setup a webpage
, spread the word on social media and set an initial goal for raising $1,000 dollars during the 2016 campaign. Before he had made his first tackle of the season, he’d already raised over $900, so he set his sights higher and used his jersey number, 70, as the inspiration to try and raise $7,000.
While Foltz’s tragic passing helped spur him into action, Joey’s motivation took on a new form as the season carried on. A family from suburban Chicago reached out to thank Joey for his efforts, explaining that their 12-year old son, Joe Moylan (right)
, was battling Leukemia. Joey reached out to Joe, and soon after all the Central Catholic linemen were wearing Joe’s 2tuff for leukemia wristbands, while Joey was calling Joe every Friday before Central Catholic took the field.
“I told him that I was playing the game for him and every other kid who was fighting cancer,” Joey said. “I told him to keep fighting, that he can’t ever give up.”
Joey reached his goal, raising $7,971 dollars via 57 tackles, but more importantly his biggest fan in Tinley Park is making a full recovery and hopes to play football and wrestle next year as a high school freshman.
“I remember my mom telling me about Joey raising money for pediatric cancer through football and thinking it was such a cool thing to do,” Joe said. “He is an amazing guy. There are not a lot of people who would do something like that. Saying ‘thank you’ really isn’t enough. He is helping a lot of people and I hope more people can be like him.”
When he returns to the Kohl’s Camp this summer, Joey won’t be looking for extra motivation, this time, he knows what he needs to do.
“I’m going to raise the bar,” Joey said. “Do it again as a senior and set a higher dollar amount to raise.” For more information or to support Joey's Tackles For Childhood Cancer Research, click here