Singleton brings style to Warren's defense

  • Warren's Willis Singleton Jr. celebrates after a sack during action against Lake Zurich last year.

      Warren's Willis Singleton Jr. celebrates after a sack during action against Lake Zurich last year. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Warren football player Willis Singleton Jr. has the face of determination as he fires up his teammates during practice as the 2019 season kicks off.

      Warren football player Willis Singleton Jr. has the face of determination as he fires up his teammates during practice as the 2019 season kicks off. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/27/2019 6:49 PM

Willis Singleton Jr. tugged on his Warren football practice jersey. Imagine King Kong wearing a baseball tarp.

No way that's a comfortable fit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So Singleton, a big boy, has big plans.

"I want to be an entrepreneur," he says. "I want to have my own shirt company."

Football brings out the beast in Singleton, the Blue Devils' Division I-bound defensive tackle, and he's no less serious when it comes to fashion.

"I go to church every Sunday looking as good as ever," he says proudly with a jolly smile that's proportionate to his 6-foot-2, 285-pound frame.

Look good, feel good. Amen.

If you think Singleton plays happy on the football field, imagine him in his Sunday best. He's out to spread his passions, which include his love of clothes. That's why he's interested in designing athletic shirts for "big men like me," he says.

Dress shirts and pants, too.

"For guys like me," says Singleton, who goes by 'J.R.,' "if you get a bigger shirt, it's loose in the midsection, but it fits right in the chest."

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For now, Iowa State University can wait for Singleton, who will arrive in Ames next year with an appetite to pursue academics and football with ferocity. A couple of weeks before official high school practice started this month, Singleton announced via Twitter that will attend Iowa State. He chose the Cyclones over Cincinnati, Illinois, Louisville and Michigan State.

Iowa State had offered him in February.

"Iowa State just felt family-oriented," Singleton says. "They showed me what they had (other) than football after college. Obviously I have aspirations for the NFL, but if that doesn't work out, I'll get a good degree and just keep growing from there."

A varsity starter since his sophomore year, Singleton emerged as a Division-I prospect last year. His all-area, all-conference junior campaign included 16 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.

Opponents noticed him. Fans noticed him. And not just because he was constantly around the football and chasing down ball carriers. His enthusiasm was visible from the top row of the bleachers. That was true whether Warren was on offense or defense.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When other guys are making plays," Singleton says, "I'm jumping, doing cartwheels, all types of stuff down the sideline or if I'm in the game."

It's that motor that helps makes Singleton so good.

"Most big kids don't go as hard as he does all the time," Blue Devils coach Bryan McNulty says. "He's so explosive. You hear people talk about being twitchy. He really is that for a big kid. And he runs, and he hits, and spends his time in the weight room. He's as good as I've coached."

Singleton's joy of the game benefits more than himself.

"He's one of the most energetic kids I've ever met in my life," says Warren senior linebacker Juan De La Cruz, a Division-I prospect himself who has an offer from Air Force. "It's not just his play but it's how he's a leader, helping the younger kids, the freshmen, the sophomores. It's like how the upper classmen taught us when we were sophomores. He's doing the same thing."

Singleton's passion, which is evident in practice too when he shouts to teammates and waves his arms during stretching, has increased since he started playing varsity.

"It really came from my defensive line coach, Coach (Brandon) Schild," Singleton says. "Sophomore year, I really didn't have that (motor) yet. But he just kept building that into me. The defensive line, we just keep going and going and going."

The Blue Devils went 10-2 last season and advanced to the Class 8A state quarterfinals. They want to keep going and going deep into the playoffs again this year, and the talent is there.

"We like that pressure," Singleton says. "That's what we've been working for these last couple of years I've been on the team. That 2017 class (seniors on the 2017 team) really built this for us now. I'm just really glad to see what they built is finally coming to fruition."

The big smile on the big kid fades. For the future entrepreneur, the start of the season means it's all business.

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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