CHICAGO — Malik Haynes likes spending hours of his free time building toy cars, assembling the thousand-piece models with his hands, Super Glue and patience.
"It's helped me because it's given me the patience to teach and to learn," said the West Loop 18-year-old, who is considered by some to be one of Illinois' best defensive linemen.
The Al Raby High School senior, who has offers from Army and Southern Illinois, has played football since second grade. He said the sport sharpens his mind because learning and understanding different formations helps him remember facts and figures in the classroom too. Haynes was the valedictorian of his eighth-grade graduating class at William H. Brown Elementary on the Near West Side and is ranked in the top 10 at Raby with a 4.2 grade point average.
"He's the ultimate leader, not only on the field by helping out younger guys with techniques and different things but also being the example, and off the field as well by maintaining a 4.2 GPA as well," said Raby's defensive coordinator, Zennan Owens.
Haynes led the Raby defense to a 30-0 victory over Clark in last week's first round of the IHSA Class 3A playoffs. It was the first state playoff triumph in the school's history. Raby (8-2) travels to Princeton (10-0) in a second-round match Friday night.
Haynes has 71 tackles, including 20 for losses, five sacks and four fumble recoveries despite consistent double and triple teams against him. He's also scored on three 2-point rushing conversions. Owens said his 6-foot, 280-pound standout has dominant strength and speed.
"For a guy that's [280 pounds], he's very explosive off the ball," Owens said. "He has been by far the best defensive lineman in the city this year."
Haynes isn't sure whether he'll commit to Army, SIU or elsewhere. He's fascinated with the thought of becoming a military man — "G.I. Joe" was his favorite show growing up — while Haynes also likes SIU's criminal justice program.
As far as football, Haynes said he's been pleased with his prep performances at his East Garfield Park high school but admits he has a long way to go.
"I'm good, but I'm not where I want to be," he said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: