By Joseph Staszewski
In a year where things didn’t go nearly as planned for Kalief Joyner, the Christ the King football star was thrown another curveball when he arrived for practice for the Empire Challenge.
“We are not really using a lot of tight end,” New York City and Lincoln Coach Shawn O’Connor said. “So we asked him to make a sacrifice.”
That sacrifice was moving to defensive tackle, a brand new position for Joyner, a highly touted tight end. He made his debut there June 19 at the end-of-year all-star basketball game between the best players in the city and their counterparts from Long Island at Hofstra University.
Joyner was initially disappointed and shocked, but he never questioned the move.
“It was kind of difficult at first, but it’s for the team so I do what’s best for the team, make that sacrifice and get that ‘W,’” Joyner said.
When the season began last fall, he was one of the highest recruited players in the city. Joyner performed well in offseason camps and held interest from UConn, Rutgers, Syracuse, Purdue, Maryland, Boston College and Penn State. A scholarship offer, though, never rolled in.
The Royals never quite lived up to the talent on its roster, going just 1-8. Coach Chris Higgins resigned after the season and was replaced by Tyree Allison. Joyner didn’t become a weapon until James Coleman was moved to quarterback late in the season. As a captain he took responsibility for CK’s poor play and knows it didn’t entice coaches to see him.
“The hype got to me a little bit,” the 6-foot-4, 240-pound standout said. “I thought I was going to get that offer. When it didn’t come, it was a shock. I was disappointed, but you got to brush it off and have another year to get that offer.”
He hopes it happens at Cheshire Academy, a Connecticut prep school. There, Joyner will try to get increased exposure and work on his academics. He’s been told by college coaches that there was not enough blocking on his highlight reel; his pass catching was never a question. Joyner said the goal has motivated him more. He is in the gym four times a week.
O’Connor’s hasn’t seen him play tight end, but knows an athlete when he sees one and a kid willing to do whatever it takes to get better. Joyner said playing defensive tackle has given him a greater appreciation of the defensive linemen who have tried to block him over the years, saying he “feels their pain.”
“He’s a very good athlete,” O’Connor said. “Good size and a kid who adapts to coaching real well. Against this type of competition, he is doing a good job at d-line.”
Joyner is looking forward to a fresh start at Cheshire. First, he gets one more game as a New York City high school player.
“It’s an honor,” Joyner said. “All the greats play in this game. Just me being with these names is a humbling experience.”