How Simeon receiver became a top football recruit


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 — manifestation.

“He always said he wanted to be an NFL player,” his mother, Jackie Elzy, told the Tribune. “I will go in my bathroom and in the mirror (see) ‘NFL,’ so I would just smile to myself knowing that after he showers, he writes it on the mirror.”

As his final high school season at Simeon was winding down, Elzy still approached game preparation as if the offseason weren’t days away. The 17-year-old wide receiver would wake up at 5 a.m. to get in a workout before school. After a day of classes, he would head to football practice, where he would stay another few hours before going home to do it all over again.

The 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 attributes his work ethic to them and his grandmother. He has watched them work hard all of his life; they are his motivation.

But he also knows it doesn’t just happen like that. He knows that along with manifestation, he also must do the work. Elzy looks at every opponent as an obstacle that his work ethic will help him defeat.

“The reason I did that was because I wanted to get closer to God and I found out that you can manifest a lot of things by writing it down,” Elzy said. “Like just keep saying it over and over. 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 across from me, he’s trying to stop me from getting my family out of the ‘hood. He’s trying to stop me from being successful.”

Simeon wide receiver Malik Elzy, center, at home in Chicago with his parents, Jackie, left, and Curtis, on Dec. 27, 2022.

So he keeps waking up at 5 a.m. He’s going to outwork his opponents before he even steps on the field.

Elzy, the No. 4 recruit in the state according to’s composite rankings, will announce his college choice Saturday during the Adidas All-American Bowl in San Antonio. The four-star prospect decommitted from Cincinnati in October.

As a 6-year-old, Elzy picked up a football 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 picked up the game — but also the dream.

In his junior year, he amassed 35 catches, 674 yards and 12 touchdowns. Despite teams starting to double-team him as a senior this year, Elzy racked up 45 catches, 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He found himself heavily recruited by some of the nation’s best college programs, receiving more than 25 offers from schools such as Auburn, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Tennessee.

But what he really brings isn’t on the stat sheet.

“Malik’s character is just as elite as his performance,” said Simeon assistant coach Kofi Hughes, who played wide receiver at Indiana (2010-13). “In pregame warmups (before Simeon’s 2022 season opener against Wheaton Warrenville South), Malik said if you don’t believe, you need to get the hell out. … This kid got every single kid on that team to believe they were going to win that game, and we did. I’ve never seen a group of kids come together like that. It was so special.

“(It) is these moments where I see him, whether it’s at practice (and) he gets everybody together and gets them focused, whether it’s before the game, the way that he leaves warmups and the energy he brings … the whole room could be dead and then this boy turns it up. To me those are all little signs of a great leader and a guy who has great influence. People just follow Malik.”

During the height of COVID-19, with everything shut down, Elzy found himself looking for ways to stay active and in shape. His brother had told him repeatedly that if he wanted to play in college and beyond, he had to keep both his body and mind prepared because the work only increases. It felt like the world had come to a halt, but Elzy couldn’t slack on his plan.

With options pretty slim, he started working out in an alley in Englewood with a coach from nearby Ogden Park. One day Elzy received a call from Hughes, who is also a performance coach, to join him for training in River North. Elzy and a Simeon teammate decided to go.

Simeon wide receiver Malik Elzy has a laugh as he lines up against Taft in the Chicago Public League championship game Nov. 19, 2022, at Gately Stadium.

“Before that I’d seen him,” Elzy said of Hughes, who spent time in training camp with three NFL teams, including the Chicago Bears in 2014. “I knew of him but I’d never worked with him. After that we’ve been locked in ever since. And Kofi … he really inspires me. He changed my whole point of view about what I’m doing 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’m trying to do. He went D1, but in high school (at 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 some things that weren’t good and it hurt him.”

In Elzy, Hughes found a young man with promise, and Elzy found a mentor who had walked the path already. Someone who understood his plan and wanted to help him get there. But for that to happen, Elzy needed him around more often. Every day. It was their bond that led to Hughes joining Simeon coach Dante Culbreath’s staff as a wide receivers coach.

Simeon wide receiver Malik Elzy catches a pass during the Chicago Public League championship game against Taft on Nov. 19, 2022, at Gately Stadium.

Culbreath, who has coached at Simeon for 20 years, describes Elzy as tenacious, explosive, smart and a “high-character guy.” He recalled two years ago when he realized Elzy was going to break out.

“Elzy made some critical catches at critical times,” Culbreath said, “and I turned to one of our coaches and said, ‘Oh, man, this kid is dynamic.’ I knew that he was going to be a very, very phenomenal athlete.

“(What makes Malik special) is his ability to catch big balls, his ability to get open. And if he’s not open, he’s one of those players that make a way out of no way. He just comes up with the ball.

“He’s our motivation. He plays by example. He’s going to try to outwork everybody.”

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.

Simeon wide receiver Malik Elzy looks through promotional mail he has received from colleges at his home in Chicago on Dec. 27, 2022.
Wristbands from some of the colleges Simeon wide receiver Malik Elzy visited.

Elzy committed to Cincinnati in June, but the more he thought about it, the less certain he became.

“They always said, ‘Go with your gut, it won’t do you wrong,’” Elzy said. “I couldn’t sleep because I was just thinking, ‘Did I make the right decision?’ At the end of the day, no disrespect to Cincinnati, but it just didn’t feel like the right choice.”

In October, Elzy made the difficult decision to reopen his recruitment. Every day he gets asked where he’s going to play football next year, and every day he says he doesn’t 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) I’m going to the NFL,” Elzy said. “It wasn’t a question. It was a statement: I’m going to the NFL. No question about it. It’s going to mean a lot to them. Once they see it, there’s going to be real tears. That moment when I get drafted? It’s going to be crazy, but I’ve got to get back to work.”

It’s all part of Elzy’s plan.

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