Along with Georgia Tech and NFL running back Charlie Rogers, former Rutgers star Jay Bellamy, who had a 14-year NFL career, former Rutgers linebacker Scott Gould, and colleagues Ralph Fierro and Jamil Hill, I helped coach a stacked Matawan Huskies youth football team in 2016.
That squad competed in the AYF Shore Conference and was ranked the third-best 14U team in the country, despite the majority of the team being 13-year olds. I also got to coach the kid who turned out to be the top player in New Jersey’s 2021 class.
I hadn’t planned to coach but came to practice one day with my son, Ethan, and Rogers asked me to demonstrate offensive and defensive line techniques. Before I knew it, the coaches were working with the skill players and the linemen suddenly were parked with me. I accepted the challenge, put the time in and helped develop them.
Toward the end of a practice my first week, I saw this big kid who looked like Bruce Smith taking a knee — Bergen Catholic four-star defensive lineman Tywone Malone.
Ethan specializes in unearthing guys and driving off the ball low, fast and hard. So, I used him as a barometer to see what we had. When he and Malone went head-to-head, Ethan won the rep, but I had seen all I needed to see. Malone was not only big and athletic, but a competitor. That appetite would grow throughout the season as he’d compete daily against talented players as we worked to refine his hands and feet.
Malone had played youth football but had suffered a leg injury and concentrated on baseball from that point on. He was relatively unknown heading into high school. But in eighth grade, he was reintroduced to the game with us.
At Matawan, Malone benefited from the various high school coaches who would visit practices and games to see the team as its reputation grew.
That Matawan team featured Rakim Cooper, who attends Mater Dei and is committed to Temple. And another defensive lineman with Power 5 upside who no longer plays named Gabe Melvin. The team boasted other top players from the state, too, like Bergen Catholic defensive backs Jaeden Gould and Jayden Bellamy, center Joe Matone, and 2023 offensive tackle Armend Uruci. St. Peter’s Prep running back/linebacker Paul Lefkowitz, 6-2, 310-pound Holmdel offensive lineman Gary Alaimo, Red Bank Catholic wide receiver Lenny Loria Jr. and linebacker Daniel Brewton, St. Joseph (Metuchen) running back/linebacker Gabriel Suarez Diaz and 2023 standout quarterback now at St. Joseph (Montvale), Antonio Rosato, round out the notable names in the group.
You can see some of them in action in 2016 via these highlights: Ethan Hunt | Paul Lefkowitz-2016 | Jayden Bellamy-2016 | Jaeden Gould | Antonio Rosato-2016.
The team went undefeated throughout the regular season and N.J. playoffs, earning a trip to Orlando for the AYF national championship tournament.
The Huskies went 2-1, finishing third in the country, with wins against teams from North Carolina and Illinois. We’d ultimately lose in the semifinals to the Virginia Hurricanes, a team composed primarily of Power 5 recruits. But we fought and earned a much closer loss than most analysts expected – around 10 points or so. We squeezed every last bit of juice out of that team which, ultimately, was beaten by an all-star team.
Malone grew throughout the experience and became one of the team’s key players. He played tight end and defensive end and came into his own. He was invited back to Orlando for the AYF All-American game. He got tougher each week. He would make big grabs down the field and players from opposing teams couldn’t get him on the ground after the catch.
Then he started coming on defensively, part of one of the most disruptive youth fronts in the country.
Malone was a man among boys, and Rogers using him in the passing game proved a good way to get him going. When he would catch the ball, good luck stopping him. I knew he’d ultimately grow into a three-technique who can do a lot of different things due to his quickness, hands and versatility as a two-sport athlete.
And once he took off, he’s never looked back.
His position group is coached by N.J. football royalty Greg Toal and Darnell Carter at Bergen Catholic, and Malone has worked throughout the offseason with South Jersey defensive line trainer Leroy Thompson.
“I’ve been focusing on football way more,” Malone said Tuesday. “I train to be a good pass rusher and run stopper at defensive tackle and defensive end. I mostly work on getting my footwork together, getting faster off the ball, hand placement, quick hands. You’ve got to get the offensive guards off you, offensive tackles off you and give the all-around effort to get my body right and keep moving well.”
I knew his frame, athleticism and upside would make him one of the top recruits in the country and he is now the top player in the NJ.com Top 50 and one of the top players in the country. Baseball being his first love, football is still fairly new to Malone, and he has yet to scratch the surface of what he can become.
He is a humble-yet-confident, coachable young man, always willing to learn. Despite being so highly coveted, if you ever talk to him, you’ll see that he’s not like most recruits with huge offer lists and big heads. He promotes his teammates and team first and is honest when asked to assess his performances. That, in addition to his God-given gifts, dedication to his crafts and work ethic, give Malone a good chance to play on Sundays … if he’s not blasting baseballs on a diamond somewhere near you.
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Todderick Hunt may be reached at [email protected]. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.