Every time Malik Elzy showers, he writes “NFL” on the bathroom mirror, the condensation making a perfect whiteboard for something he learned from social media – the protest.
“He always said he wanted to be an NFL player,” his mother, Jackie Elzy, told the Tribune. “I’ll go to my bathroom and the mirror (see) ‘NFL,’ so I’ll smile to myself knowing that after he showers he’ll write it on the mirror.”
As his senior high school season at Simeon drew to a close, Elzy still approached game preparation as if the offseason was not days away. The 17-year-old wide receiver would wake up at 5 a.m. to practice before school. After a day of lessons, he would go to football practice, where he would still have a few hours left before returning home to start all over again.
Long days don’t seem to bother Elzy, though. They’re just part of his plan.
Jackie, a nurse, and her husband, Curtis, a truck driver, work long days, and Elzy credits her work ethic to them and her grandmother. He has seen them work hard all his life; they are his motivation.
But he also knows that it does not happen like that. He knows that in addition to manifesting, he also has to do the work. Elzy sees every opponent as an obstacle that her work ethic will help her overcome.
“The reason I did this was because I wanted to get closer to God and I found out that you can manifest a lot of things by writing it,” Elzy said. “Like keep saying it over and over again. So I just started doing that when I take a shower. The steam will be in the bathroom, so I write, “I’m going to be in the NFL”.
“I feel the person in front of me, he’s trying to stop me from taking my family out of the neighborhood. He tries to stop me from succeeding.
So he keeps waking up at 5am. He will outplay his opponents even before entering the field.
Elzy, the No. 4 rookie in the state according to 247Sports.com composite rankings, will announce his college pick Saturday at the Adidas All-American Bowl in San Antonio. The four-star prospect retired from Cincinnati in October.
At the age of 6, Elzy picked up a soccer ball in hopes of beating his brother Devonta, who is 13 years older. Devonta played at Simeon and went on to play for Division II Northwood University in Michigan, but his football career ended there.
Malik, the baby of the family, not only took over the game, but also the dream.
During his junior year, he had 35 catches, 674 yards and 12 touchdowns. Although teams began doubling him as a senior this year, Elzy had 45 catches, 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He found himself heavily recruited by some of the top college programs in the country, receiving more than 25 offers from schools such as Auburn, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Tennessee.
But what he really brings is not on the stat sheet.
“Malik’s character is just as elite as his performance,” said Simeon assistant coach Kofi Hughes, who played receiver at Indiana (2010-13). “In pre-game warm-ups (ahead of Simeon’s 2022 season opener against Wheaton Warrenville South), Malik said if you don’t believe, you gotta get the fuck out. … This kid made believe to all the kids on this team that they were going to win this game, and we did. I’ve never seen a group of kids come together like this. It was so special.
“(Those are) those times when I see him, whether it’s in training (and) he brings everyone together and focuses them, whether it’s before the game, the way he leaves the warm-ups and the energy that “he brings…the whole room could be dead and then this boy puts him on. To me, those are all little signs of a great leader and a guy that has a big influence. People just follow Malik.”
During the height of COVID-19, when everything was shut down, Elzy found herself looking for ways to stay active and fit. His brother had repeatedly told him that if he wanted to perform in college and beyond, he had to keep his body and mind prepared because the work was only increasing. It was as if the world had stopped, but Elzy couldn’t let go of her plan.
With fairly slim options, he began training in an Englewood lane with a trainer from nearby Ogden Park. One day, Elzy received a call from Hughes, who is also a performance coach, to join him for training at River North. Elzy and a teammate of Simeon decided to go.
“Before that, I had seen him,” Elzy said of Hughes, who spent time in training camp with three NFL teams, including the Chicago Bears in 2014. “I knew him but I never worked with him. After that we’ve been locked up ever since. And Kofi… he really inspires me. He completely changed my perspective on what I do because at first I wasn’t really reading the Bible or none of that, but he told me his story and I was like, “Wow, you really inspire me.”
“He did everything I try to do. He went to D1, but in high school (in Indianapolis Central) he wasn’t as popular. He only received one offer. He went to that school, he made it to the league, but he did things that weren’t good and it hurt him.
In Elzy, Hughes found a promising young man, and Elzy found a mentor who had already come a long way. Someone who understood his plan and wanted to help him get there. But for that to happen, Elzy needed him more often. Everyday. It was their bond that led to Hughes joining Simeon’s coaching staff, Dante Culbreath, as a wide receivers coach.
Culbreath, who coached at Simeon for 20 years, describes Elzy as tenacious, explosive, smart and a “guy of character”. He recalled two years ago when he realized Elzy was going to burst.
“Elzy made critical takes at critical times,” Culbreath said, “and I turned to one of our coaches and said, ‘Oh man, this kid is dynamic. I knew he was going to be a very, very phenomenal athlete.
“(What makes Malik special) is his ability to catch big balls, his ability to open up. And if he’s not open up, he’s one of those players who comes out of a draw. He just comes back with the ball.
“He is our motivation. He leads by example. He will try to outdo everyone.
Simeon went 12-1 in Elzy’s final season, winning the Chicago Public League title and the Prep Bowl. Now he has a decision to make.
Elzy got committed to Cincinnati in June, but the more he thought about it, the less sure he became.
“They always said, ‘Go with your gut, it won’t hurt you,'” Elzy said. “I couldn’t sleep because I was just thinking, ‘Did I make the right decision?’ Ultimately, I’m not disrespecting Cincinnati, but it just didn’t seem like the right choice.
In October, Elzy made the difficult decision to reopen her recruitment. Every day he is asked where he is going to play football next year, and every day he replies that he does not know.
But everyone will know after Saturday’s announcement, and it’s a choice he feels good about.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always told (my family) that I was going to the NFL,” Elzy said. ” It was not a question. It was a statement: I’m going to the NFL. No questions about this. It will mean a lot to them. Once they see it, there will be real tears. That moment when I’m drafted? It’s going to be crazy, but I have to get back to work.
It’s all part of Elzy’s plan.