As a student at Kankakee junior high, Tyshon King used to read the Daily Journal on the way home from school every day.
And every day during football season of his eighth-grade year, the fall of 2014, he found motivation in the sports section, where he read the triumphant tales of Bishop McNamara’s up-and-coming sophomore and junior classes.
“I used to read the newspaper after school, and it was always Jonathan Ward, Ariez Andrew and Chris Bell doing this and that,” King said. “One day, after no talking or anything, I just went to my mom and told her I wanted to go to (Bishop McNamara).”
And four years later, it is now King’s efforts that spent the fall cramming newspapers across the state. King rushed for 2,318 yards and set a new single-season area record with 48 rushing touchdowns on his way to being crowned the Daily Journal Player of the Year.
Irish coach Rich Zinanni said he knew King would reach this level of prep stardom early in King’s time at McNamara.
“Tyshon is one of those kids, you can just tell in their eyes, they’re just focused,” Zinanni said. “They have great concentration; they refuse to lose and have the will to get the job done.
“Tyshon is special in that regard; he just has that extra thing about him.”
Although Zinanni quickly realized King’s potential, his path was still filled with forks. But after years of dedication and countless hours mastering his craft, it has all paid off for the Kankakee native.
After dominating at running back for the last three years of his junior football days with the Eastside Bulldogs in Kankakee, King faced a quick reality check when he took in his first practice with the Irish as a freshmen, a season he spent on the defensive side of the ball.
“You’re so used to being the best player on your team, and now you’re here with a lot of the other best players in the area, it was an adjustment,” King said. “That was the first time I didn’t start on offense; I played linebacker.”
A broken wrist ended King’s freshman season early, preventing him from dressing for the playoffs. That fall, the Irish capped off a 12-1 season with a 50-7 win against Tolono Unity to win the school’s fifth state championship.
Ward capped off a historic season of his own, compiling 2,165 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns and finishing second in the area with 83 career rushing touchdowns, numbers King aspired to obtain for himself.
“It was just seeing them win state, seeing them on TV after how hard they worked,” King said. “I was like, ‘That’s where I want to be.’”
But after bouncing between the JV and varsity squads as a running back during his sophomore year, King transitioned to full-time varsity football his junior year as a linebacker and fullback.
“I saw what (Ward) did, and in my heart of hearts, I knew that’s what I could do,” King said. “My junior year, I touched the ball more than 10 times once and was more of a defensive player.
“I’m not the type of guy to be selfish. I want to work for what I achieve, and I knew what I could do if I worked hard for it.”
And work King did. His offseason training began the moment he learned the Irish would be forfeiting their final game of the season at Hope Academy, driving down Brookmont Boulevard to Gold Star Gym to work with trainer David Gerard.
“I told Tyshon, ‘You’ve got to put the work in if you want to be successful,’” Gerard said. “A lot of these kids that play in college are talented, but it’s the ones that want to work that have success.
“He put in the work and there’s no doubt he’s got the talent.”
And Gerard who wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Zinanni knew King would eventually fill the role of lead running back, but also knew King was too talented at other, more scarce positions.
In fact, if he hadn’t helped the Irish offense to such a dominating season, King would have played less running back and more defense.
“Because of our limited numbers, we have to have all our players fit in certain positions,” Zinanni said. “We knew this was going to be his year, but we also thought he would have to play more defense, but he didn’t because we had so many big leads.”
As for what the future holds for the Metro Suburban Conference Player of the Year, King still is talking with schools and receiving offers. While the proof is in the pudding that the elusive-yet-bruising back can be effective offensively, Zinanni said he hopes colleges don’t lose sight of the versatility King brings to the gridiron.
“He was one of our top linebackers and ended up being one of our top corners after playing there a lot over the summer,” Zinanni said. “As the colleges are coming in, we talk to them and tell then he can do a lot of things; he could be recruited as an athlete and do different things for a program.”
While King will certainly relish the opportunity to play college football, his top priority at the moment is to serve someone a new wave of area youth can look up to, much like he looked up to the Fighting Irish who came before him.
“You don’t realize it’s a dream come true until it happens,” King said. “For me to walk somewhere and have a kid recognize me, tell me I had a good game and he wants to go to Mac because of me, that’s all you can ask for; it melts your heart.
“I just want to inspire kids ... if you keep working for it, you’re going to achieve it.”