Moving the Chains with … Illinois State senior long snapper Joey Malinowski

Joey Malinowski was voted a team captain this season and has been an integral part of the Redbirds’ special teams. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

Less than 3 minutes into the 2022 college football season, Joey Malinowski made a play that earned highlight-reel status.

The Illinois State senior long snapper’s tackle of Wisconsin punt returner Dean Engram for a 7-yard loss in the Redbirds’ season opener was placed a mere 3 seconds into a highlight video of the game that was posted on Twitter.

“Making a tackle to start the game off in front of 75,000 people, it gets your blood going,” Malinowski said.

Several teammates joined in his celebration after the play earlier this month. Those same teammates honored him as a team captain this fall for the Redbirds.

Along with having a knack for making tackles, Malinowski is a newlywed who loves farming, deer hunting and playing close to home.

Learn all about the ISU long snapper in our Prairie State Pigskin Moving the Chains Q&A:

What is that feeling like to stop a return specialist, like you did against Wisconsin?

I was pretty excited. I come from a high school (Bloomington Central Catholic) where I played both offense and defense. Coming to college where I’m long snapping, I’ve got an important job. The most important job is getting the snap back there, but then after that I’m running my butt off down the field and I want to make that tackle.

Or, I want to at least be in the returner’s face when he catches it to put some pressure on him.

Do returners just assume they’re going to put a move on you and leave you tackling air?

Me and our backup long snapper (Peyton Cramer) joke about it all the time. We hear a lot of, ‘We’re scheming for everybody (on a return) but we’re going to leave the long snapper and our returner should be able to make one guy miss.’ We take that to heart. Last year, I was fortunate to make a handful of tackles and this year I hope to do the same. We’re on the coverage team for a reason, and we want to be the ones to make a tackle every time.

It helps having fast gunners on the outside (of the punt coverage team) to force them back to you (in the middle of the field). You almost want to be blocked so it frees up somebody else. You want to be a threat to the point they have to scheme for you, but when they don’t, you just get a free run down the field to go make a play.

When you get down the field and into a returner’s face, are you watching his eyes, feet, hips or something else?

I’m mostly watching hips. Most of the time, they’re a lot faster than you and shiftier. If you watch all the head bobbing, they’re probably going to make you miss. I’m not a 100% sure tackler, but I get my fair share of tackles.

I’m a 5-second 40-yard dash guy all day long. (Laughs) I’m not crazy fast. But if I can get down the field and have somebody keep him contained, I’ve got a pretty good shot at making the tackle.

You grew up in Bloomington and went to high school just a few miles from the Illinois State campus. What are your earliest memories of Redbird football?

Joey Malinowski (Photo by

Just going to games as a kid. We’ve had three or four long snappers from my high school come to ISU. Me and my dad – who helped coach those guys — would go watch them when I was a kid. With my dad coaching at Central Catholic, we’d have Intercity (games) here at Hancock Stadium every year. It was always a fun thing to come play at ISU’s field.

I got married about a year ago and now it’s nice having everybody (in the family) so close.

You’re currently in an MBA program at Illinois State and have a degree in agricultural business. What’s the most fulfilling part about working in agriculture?

No. 1, it starts with the people that you work with. My backup long snapper is in the ag field too. We have so much in common. Being able to go to the ag building at Illinois State, you walk through there and it’s like I’m in high school again.

It’s a small group, maybe 300 people in the whole ag department. They know your name. All the teachers care about you, they care for you. They love coming and watching you play. The people in agriculture is what I love most about it.

And, I love running farm equipment. I love the big stuff.

During a recent internship, you worked on the technology side of agriculture. You’ve also done some mechanical work. What’s your dream job?

I got married to somebody whose family currently owns a John Deere dealership (Cross Implement in Minier, Ill.) and that was the dealership I’ve worked at.

A dream job for any kid in agriculture is to own your own farm. You want to say, ‘Hey, I own this land. I farm this land.’ That’s everybody’s dream. I recently accepted a job with Evergreen FS here in (Bloomington).

What was your first exposure to agriculture and what grew your interest?

I got a job at a John Deere dealership, and I was washing equipment. That’s not the cleanest job in the world. But when you see the equipment running in the field and see the people doing it, what it takes to grow that corn and all the technology involved in it, it’s a cool, fun thing to be a part of.

All the technology wrapped up in farming nowadays is unbelievable. … It’s crazy to see where things are going. It’s also crazy to see the amount of money things are costing these days to operate equipment. John Deere is starting to come out with some tractors that can drive themselves. It’s cool to see the things people can do with (the technology).

You and your wife, Lauryn, got married last summer. How did you meet?

We met freshman year of high school. We’ve been dating since we were freshmen. When it came time for recruiting for football, we were always picturing where we’d go to school. We traveled all around the Midwest – to Mid-American Conference schools, Big Ten schools, Missouri Valley schools – trying to find a place to go.

ISU was my last (football) camp, and they were the first ones to offer me (a scholarship). I had a couple walk-on opportunities, but it was mostly ISU. I thought it was perfect, and she ended up going to Illinois Wesleyan, which ended up working out.

When you start dating as freshmen in high school, who knows where it’s going to go? We’ve stayed strong through the years, and it obviously helped going to school right down the road from each other. She graduated college a year earlier than me and by that time, we had been dating seven years. Now she works for an insurance agency in town.

How has marriage changed your perspective on life?

You’re caring about somebody more than just yourself. When somebody’s dad gives you the blessing to marry his daughter, they expect you to care for her. That’s your job now. It changes your perspective on everything.

She knew she was marrying an ISU football player who in the fall wasn’t going to be home very much. A lot of times, I’ll leave the house at 6 in the morning and get back at 8 at night. You take your time together when you can get it. We knew during football season that we wouldn’t get to see each other that much.

Peyton Cramer, your backup, has talked about what a good mentor you have been. Would you ever consider coaching?

I wouldn’t doubt football would be part of my life in the future. I don’t think I see myself as a coach. I’d love to help kids learn how to long snap. With the degree I’m getting and the job I’m getting myself into (coaching would be difficult). Me and Peyton both love farming and we both love deer hunting. That is fall for us — football, deer hunting and farming.

I’d love to have kids. I’d love to have little boys that want to play football. For right now, it may be good to just be married and be able to do stuff.

The atmosphere at Wisconsin was impressive. What are your favorite Missouri Valley Football Conference atmospheres?

Besides ISU, because you gotta love playing at ISU, everybody loves going to North Dakota State. They love having (lots of fans) show up there, and you love to see that. South Dakota State has a beautiful new stadium. They have a great fan base, too. And Northern Iowa is a hard place to win.

Other than ISU, what’s your favorite uniform in the Missouri Valley?

I think Missouri State’s got a great uniform. I like their new helmet with the grey and the maroon. They’ve got a good looking uniform.

Your younger brother, Timmy, is the long snapper at Division II Pittsburg State in Kansas, which has a unique nickname. How much gear do you have of the Pitt State Gorillas?

I think I’ve got one shirt. I went down there last year and got a shirt. I plan to go watch Timmy when I get done playing. I can be a fan for a bit and go to his games and go to more places like Wisconsin and watch football.

Timmy loves it down there. He’s studying to be a diesel mechanic.

Your brother made the news in Kansas last season when he repaired the team bus after it broke down on the way to a road game. If the ISU bus breaks down, could you fix it?

They won’t look to me to fix it. (Laughs) I can change a tire. He knew exactly where to look (for a missing hose clamp) when the bus operator told him, ‘Hey, I’m losing power.’ I know where to look now, but I’m not that savvy.

Timmy can fix anything he needs to fix.

You’re working with a different kicker and punter this year, Jack Takerian. How have you handled that transition?

Actually, I’m working with another different guy too because I lost my (field goal) holder for the last three years, Spencer DeForest. He was a great holder.

Now I’ve got Brock Annexstad as my holder with a new kicker. The three of us worked all summer long to get our timing down. It’s come a long way.

With punting, Jack got here a year after I got here, so I’ve been snapping to him for a long time. He’s done a great job.  

Specialists work very closely together. What’s the most rewarding part of those relationships?

I was here for two years with (former long snapper) Paul Monaco, three years with (former punter) J.T. Bohlken, one year with (former kicker) Sam Fenlason, and another two years with (former kicker) Aiden Bresnahan.

We all have a group chat and still talk at least once a week together. You’re with each other all practice long. That relationship doesn’t go away that easily. We still talk all the time, and that’s what is best about it.

You were chosen a team captain this season. What does that responsibility mean to you?

I was pretty excited when I got named team captain. I couldn’t be prouder to play for ISU. To be nominated by your peers to be a captain means that what you’ve been doing the last four years matters.

I’m not a guy who leads vocally. I’m a guy who leads by example. I’m dependable. I do what I’m supposed to. I don’t cause issues, and I try to help people out as much as I possibly can.

I can show people the way how to do things rather than try to jump on everybody’s butt.

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