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Ben malcolmson retired from football at age 10, following a disappointing career with the Hinsdale (Ill.) Falcons. "Everyone had to play at least four downs," he says, "and every game I played four downs." He was the rare child who valued sheepskin over pigskin: Malcolmson earned his high school diploma in just three years and enrolled at USC, where he's covered 29 consecutive football games and three national championships as a writer for the Daily Trojan. Malcolmson knows who the BMOCs are. "Obviously," says the senior, "football players are idolized on campus."
As for Malcolmson, he avoided contact even during the football games at his fraternity house, Alpha Gamma Omega, where he has been president and chief Poindexter, with a 3.5 GPA. But he's also a fearless reporter, which is how he came to be a football student-manager for a day. "I have great respect for those guys," he says. "You pick up a lot of dirty things." When Malcolmson saw the USC football team would hold walk-on tryouts on March 7, he thought it would be a funny story if he tried out. Forced to list a position on his application, Malcolmson wrote, "Wide receiver?" A few days before the tryout he bought a pair of cleats for $34.99 at Sports Authority.
Ten minutes into that tryout, Malcolmson realized he was in over his head. He'd never run a 40, and when he tried to fake his way into a sprinter's stance, coach Ken Norton Jr. recognized this impostor and shouted, "That's the newspaper guy!" Asked to run a Go and a Deep Slant, Malcolmson thought of Madden. "I play video games," he says, "so I knew some of the terminology."
Bafflingly, he seemed to make every catch, including a one-hander. And he did run a respectable 4.72 40. But at 6-feet, 169 pounds, he's built like a sunflower, all head and no body. After the tryout, he returned to his room and began to write a story about "how terrible I am."
Two mornings later his friend Lana called and said, "Did you try out for the football team?" When Malcolmson said yes, she casually replied, "Well, you made it," before nattering on about something else. Ben blurted out, "I have to go."
In a daze he went to Heritage Hall, where his name was indeed posted with nine others who'd made the cut. He raced to Pete Carroll's office, where the head coach's secretary--who knew Malcolmson as the Daily Trojan beat writer--said, "Yay, Ben!"
"You've got good hands and you're quick," Carroll told him. "You want to do this?" Malcolmson was on the team, having hit history's first walk-on home run. He rewrote his story, which ran beneath the headline HAULING IN A HAIL MARY, then promptly resigned from the paper.
The newest Trojan player is still dazed. "It's like when someone dies young and you can't believe it, and you keep telling yourself this can't be," he says.
It wasn't long before the reporter turned receiver fielded his first dumb question from the media--on Ryan Seacrest's radio show. "He asked me," sighs Malcolmson, "if I've been slapping a lot of butts in practice."
From his frat brothers, "I get nonstop crap," says Malcolmson. Whenever he fails to wash his plate promptly, someone will announce, "Ben doesn't have to do that anymore. He's on the football team."