CHICAGO — To prepare for corralling passes at his football games, Kenny Golladay would lie back, throw a beanbag, tennis ball or balled-up pair of socks up in the air and make sure he caught it every time.
He was 9 years old.
That work ethic has never changed for the Englewood native, St. Rita graduate and current standout wide receiver for Northern Illinois, which faces Boise State in Dec. 23's Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.
"Football is something I've always loved to do, something I was always excited about," Golladay said. "And I've always had a good pair of hands."
Golladay, a redshirt junior transfer from North Dakota, has dominated his first season in DeKalb, with a team-high 71 receptions for 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s meant a lot to our offense in every phase of the game; from blocking, receiving and running the ball," NIU wide receivers coach Thad Ward said. "I still think the best is yet to come.”
St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said he's not surprised Golladay has been so successful at NIU.
"He was a player that got better every season while playing for St. Rita," Kuska said. "He is proof that hard work and determination is the only way to achieve your goals."
Golladay has always played receiver from his days as a Hayes Park Blitz 9-year-old because he was tall, had speed and featured those all-catching hands. He was 6 feet tall as a St. Rita freshman but then sprouted to his current 6-feet-4-inch frame by sophomore year.
Golladay transferred to NIU because he wanted to be closer to home. He's had a large following of 20-plus supporters at each Huskies home game. That includes his dad and mom — Kenneth, who loads trucks at a railroad yard, and Stacy, an elementary school teacher.
"What it boils down to is me putting a smile on my mom and dad's face and giving something for my family to brag about," Golladay said of his football performances.
Golladay is an NFL prospect, but he's focused on getting better at the collegiate level. Unlike most college football players, he doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. Golladay said he just wants to "stay humble."
"I still have room to grow," he said. "My name got out there a little bit for this year, but I've got more to show."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: