Justin Malone had only one scholarship offer come his way in high school during the recruiting process.
Malone only played his sophomore and senior seasons and played in the Mississippi private school ranks as a senior on top of that. But there was no mistaking the raw talent of the offensive guard and Mississippi State saw the makings of a star when they scouted the Madison Ridgeland Academy standout.
The Bulldogs offered in early November of Malone's senior year and he quickly committed on the same day.
But Malone has no hard feelings about not being more highly recruited. He sat out his junior season after transferring from Northwest Rankin and was mainly focused on basketball during that transition period.
"I know it was because I didn't play (my junior year)," Malone said. "That had a lot to do with it. My dad always told me that during your junior year is when they recruit you and your senior year is when they start offering scholarships. Really they didn't have a lot of time to recruit me since I didn't play. I don't think I was overlooked, I just put myself in a bad position by not playing."
Malone is not alone on MSU's offensive line. Only three of the Bulldogs 22 offensive linemen were rated above a three-star, which is what the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder was rated in 2011.
"Most of the guys on our offensive line weren't highly touted," Malone said. "We joke about our high schools and stuff but it's not like they think since I played academy ball that I can't play. Everything you did before college is wiped clean when you get here."
Following a redshirt year, Malone has appeared in all eight games this season including making four starts at right guard. The Madison native finds that playing on Saturdays is much easier than what he faces during the week.
"The games are a lot more different than going out there and practicing," Malone said. "Practices are designed to make it as hard as possible. I'm not in the best shape in the world so at practice I'm out there huffing and puffing and breathing hard. But in the game you go out there and don't do as much as you do in practice so it's easier and not as tiring. I feel like I can play at a higher level for longer."
Although Malone is still admittedly adjusting to life in the Southeastern Conference as well as football in general, he has a great tutor ahead of him in senior Tobias Smith. Smith is one of State's captains and is the guy Malone seeks advice from the most.
"I pick his brain a lot, almost every day," Malone said. "I know I'm young and haven't played much football. There's not a lot that I know. Right now I pretty much know where I'm going to and everything else I have to ask. If I don't know I'm going to ask Tobias, Gabe Jackson or coach because I'll need that information going through this season and the coming years."
With Smith's history of injuries, Malone has to make sure he is prepared to play at any time.
"I do have to be ready at a moment's notice," Malone said. "But I've played in some games now and feel that I'm ready. As time goes on I feel I'll be more and more ready that I can step in and fill his position if he goes down. They believe in me and I have to have confidence in myself to go out there and get the job done."
But none of this would be possible without a change of heart that Malone made three years ago to give football another try.
"I'm glad I chose to come back and play because I feel like I'm right where I should be," Malone said.
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