MORGANTOWN — The journey to Nick Malone’s first collegiate start had plenty of twists and turns.
From committing to his favorite team’s biggest rival to walking on and earning a scholarship at WVU, the Morgantown native went through a lot before making the first start of his college career at Houston last week.
Malone has been a Mountaineer fan from birth. He thinks he basically grew up in Milan Puskar Stadium.
“Probably as soon as I was born, the next week I was (at a WVU game),” Malone said Monday. “As far as I can remember, the last time I was in the Blue Lot was my senior year (of high school). After that, I’ve been playing, but I’ve been coming to games every weekend.”
Growing up rooting for the Mountaineers, Malone developed into a three-star prospect at Morgantown High, but a scholarship offer to join his hometown team never came from former WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Instead, Malone was offered by Pitt and committed to the Panthers prior to his senior year of high school. He decommitted from Pitt following a coaching change and started talking to new WVU head coach Neal Brown, who replaced Holgorsen that offseason.
He eventually joined WVU as a preferred walk-on.
“I didn’t get the offer, but I wanted to come in and work,” Malone said. “I thought an offer might come down the road, but my goal was to play.”
Malone redshirted and did not play in 2019, but still got to experience being on the field at Milan Puskar Stadium, where he had watched so many games before.
“The very first time running out on the field was one of the most crazy times of my life,” he said. Going from sitting (in the stands) to running out.”
Following the 2020 COVID season, Malone appeared in all 13 games in 2021. Coming in undersized at 260 pounds, Malone said he did everything the coaches asked and continued to get bigger and stronger. With his increased size and strength, Malone said he really started to believe he could play at this level.
“You get bigger, you feel bigger and it clicks in your head,” he said. “The very first play when you grab somebody, you know.”
As he continued to work hard and develop, a special moment came for Malone in the 2022 Gold-Blue Spring Game. Malone was named the Tommy Nickolich Award winner as the team’s top walk-on and his lifelong teammate, fellow Morgantown native Preston Fox, was put on scholarship.
“I grew up with him playing Little League, playing at Evansdale to Sunjcrest Middle School to Morgantown High to now,” Malone said. “It’s crazy to play with him. When you think about going from Little League to now, it’s crazy to think about.”
Malone again appeared in every game during the 2022 season, primarily on special teams, and was finally awarded the scholarship he had wanted for so long prior to the team’s Thanksgiving game against Oklahoma State.
“It’s just a great story,” Malone said. “Being from here, working hard, working my way up. My story kind of proves that if you keep working, you’ll get to the top eventually.”
Now a redshirt junior, Malone entered this season as the team’s top backup at offensive tackle and when starter Wyatt Milum was ruled out prior to Thursday’s game at Houston, he was set to make the first start of his career.
“It was a surreal moment,” Malone said. “Getting my first career start at tackle was something I’ve been working towards this whole year and the past few years.”
Malone played well in his first career start, grading out as the Mountaineers’ top lineman in the game.
“He’s made tremendous strides since he’s been here,” offensive coordinator Chad Scott said. “He’s done a great job of preparing. He stepped right in because he practices that way, he practices as if he’s the starter. I’m proud of the way he’s come along and developed. He did some really good stuff last week.”
Milum is on track to return this week against Oklahoma State, so Malone may find himself out of the starting lineup once again, but the story of his first career starter will undoubtedly be a tale he tells for the rest of his life. Although, he might leave out how the whole thing ended.
“We can skip that part,” he said with a smile. “Those last 30 seconds were some of the most emotional 30 seconds, but stuff happens and you’ve got to keep going.”