Joliet West’s Micah McNair learning to lead entering senior season

3-year starter at middle linebacker has been one of Tigers’ best defenders past few seasons

Joliet West's Micah Mcnair (8) celebrates a pick six during football game between Joliet West at Plainfield Central.   Oct 20, 2023.

It’s no secret that last year was a historic season for the Joliet West football team. The Tigers’ 8-2 record was their best finish in 50 years. They won their first outright conference title in more than 50 years and hosted a playoff game for the first time in program history. The hope is that they’ll be able to continue that momentum moving forward this season.

If they do, there’s no doubt Micah McNair will be a massive reason why.

McNair is entering his senior year. A three-year varsity starter at middle linebacker, he’s hoping to make his final year at the high school level one to remember.

“I’ve been hitting the weights more seriously this year,” McNair said. “We just started football camp, but we’re lifting and conditioning regularly. I’m trying to be more vocal and become a leader on the team.”

Tigers coach Dan Tito has noticed that increased effort from McNair. He also noted that while leading vocally may not be natural to McNair, his level of play and commitment is helping him lead the defense already.

“Micah has done a great job of improving in his leadership,” Tito said. “He’s a quiet kid, and there’s nothing wrong with being a quiet kid, but in my conversations with Micah I tell him he’s one of the most influential players on the team. He doesn’t need to yell or anything like that. He’s going to impact kids just on how he plays. When he goes hard, so will the others. So I’ve seen a lot of improvement there.”

The thought of McNair getting much better should frighten his opponents. He broke out last season with 90 tackles, including six for loss, four interceptions, including two pick sixes, six sacks and four pass deflections. Recording stats in all those areas shows how versatile he is, which McNair considers a strength.

“I’m a downhill linebacker,” McNair said. “I like to really hit, and I give it my all every play, and I’m good in coverage. I’m still trying to max out on my coverages, though. I can still get better at my man-to-man coverage.”

It’s that effort and versatility that have earned McNair attention from college programs. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, McNair already has a pair of Division I offers from Western Illinois and Indiana State. Tito believes it is not just McNair’s ability as a player, but who he is as a person that’s earned him that kind of attention.

“Micah is a Division I kid,” Tito said. “Not just a Division I talent, but in all aspects. In the classroom he’s a 3.0 student. I had him his freshman year in my world history class, and he was a great kid. He’s really filled out this offseason. He was a little slender, but he’s gotten a lot stronger and come into his body. He’s flying around everywhere, and Division I colleges have very good reason to be checking him out.”

Tito added that McNair’s parents, Wayne and Andrea, have been huge supporters of him and the football team in general. McNair says they’ve helped teach him to give 100% every play and always remain coachable. Those qualities are partially why Tito believes McNair will be a Division I player.

First, however, he’s got one last ride with the Tigers.

“We believe we are going to continue our success,” Tito said. “Obviously, last year was a historic season for us. ... We have a lot of excitement around our program and a lot of great kids coming back, including Micah. We think he’s going to continue the success from his breakout junior season, and we believe that he’s going to be an even bigger playmaker than he was last season. He’ll keep flying and making plays.”

As for McNair? He’s got big goals this season for himself and the team.

“I want to be all-state this year,” McNair said. “I feel like I could’ve been all-state last year, so I want to get all-state this year. For the team, I want to see us get as far as we can in the playoffs.”