USC Gamecocks Football

The day Dakereon Joyner’s coach realized the special talent he had

Fort Dorchester High coach Steve LaPrad first laid eyes on Dakereon Joyner when he was 12 years old.

The seventh-grader was working with high school coaches at a three-day middle school combine, as the staff tried to get a sense of the talent in the pipeline.

“We had about five stations that day, and my offensive line coach was doing the 40-yard dash. I’m standing there and he runs over, says, ‘Coach, we just had a seventh-grader run a 4.75.’ Now that’s fast for seventh grade.”

LaPrad was skeptical. A coach hand-timing middle school players might not be accurate.

“I said, ‘Coach, have him run it again. Let me know what he runs, try to do it really good.’ ” LaPrad said “Ten minutes later, he comes back, he says, ‘Coach, kid just ran a 4.68.’ I said, ‘Who is it?’ 

It was Joyner.

LaPrad followed him through the next few stations, watching him fly through with ease. The last one was an obstacle course, which Joyner got through without much trouble, capped by having to drag a 90-pound dummy a certain distance. On the first burst, Joyner got it 5 yards.

LaPrad figured most middle school players would collapse at that point. Instead, he saw a look on Joyner’s face. He dragged it the rest of the way, and now LaPrad was sure the young player would limp away.

Instead, Joyner put his hands on his knees, took one deep breath and raced back to the line of players waiting to do the drill.

“Hmmm, something different about that one,” LaPrad recalls saying.

He asked the middle school coach about Joyner, and got the report he fancied himself a quarterback but didn’t like to stay in the pocket. But the coach couldn’t shake what he saw.

“That night, it was like a vision,” LaPrad said. “I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. So the next day, I go to his school, River Oaks, get him out of class.”

Joyner loved basketball and had been scouted by North Carolina’s Roy Williams at age 12. LaPrad managed to convince him to come out to some of the team’s quarterback workouts. He wasn’t great at the start, but each week, he took big steps forward.

This was all before Joyner became a junior varsity starter in eighth grade, before LaPrad said Joyner as a ninth-grader was the best he’d had, better than Pro Bowl players Carlos Dunlap and Robert Quinn or Super Bowl champ Byron Maxwell at that age.

Joyner went on to a dominant career, leading the first state championship team in school history, and Sunday committed to South Carolina as a four-star prospect.

Before all that, LaPrad went to Joyner’s mother and threw caution to the wind.

“I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m going to tell you something,’ ” LaPrad said. “ ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this. This is probably a mistake, it’s not what coaches do, not what I do.’ I said, ‘If you will trust me and let me work with your child, I think your child will be a household name one day.’ I said, ‘I think your child is very, very special.’