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Texas Sized Tales
A Low Key Star
The high school football landscape is changing rapidly. Recruits are becoming more and more publicized…and at earlier ages. A prime example of this is Notre Dame commitment Jimmy Clausen. The Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, CA) star, widely considered the nation’s top QB prospect, called a press conference to announce his college choice. He arrived at the College Football Hall of Fame in a stretch Hummer limousine flanked television crews. This scene would have been unheard of five years ago when recruiting coverage on the internet was in its infancy. Now, high school players are hounded… their thought processes tracked… their every game and sound byte scrutinized. Top players like Clausen are turned into celebrities before their senior prom, let alone their first college snap.
By comparison, Mallett’s commitment was ultra low key. He announced on a local radio station saying, “I’m not a press conference kind of guy.” It is one of the most glaring examples of how much of a normal teenager he still is. The attention he has received has surprised both he and his mom, Debbie. ”He’s on the cover of the Texas Football Magazine," Mrs. Mallett said. "To go into Wal-Mart and see your child looking out at you…that’s an odd feeling. You can go on the internet and search and see all these interviews with him, but he’s just Ryan to us. He’s not a celebrity.”
Family has been an instrumental part of Ryan’s football journey. His parents are exploring the option of moving north to be closer to him at Michigan. His sister Lauren is currently a student at Central Arkansas, and has already finalized plans to complete her graduate studies at Michigan. “He’s the only reason,” Lauren said regarding her “big” little brother. “He picked on me. He has always been bigger than me. Actually, he’s still picking on me.”
Texas High coach Barry Norton has also played a key role in giving Mallett as normal a teenage experience as possible. Keeping all of his players humble and grounded is one of his primary objectives. Any recruiting letters his players receive before their junior season are kept until the appropriate time. As a result, Mallett had no idea he was a key target for some of the nation's most preeminent programs until right before his junior campaign. ”We didn’t know until my husband brought the mail home from school,” Mrs. Mallett said. “Ryan wears a size 16 and we have three shoeboxes full of letters. One shoebox full of just Michigan letters.”
Even with his coaches and family doing their best to give him a sense of normalcy, staying out of the limelight isn’t always easy for Mallett. Being 6’7 doesn’t help either. ”Because of his size, he has always been noticed," said Mrs. Mallett. "Lately we’ll be at the mall or something and people will yell, ‘hey Ryan,' or 'hey Mallett.’ He’ll say, 'I don’t know who that is.' Everyone knows him because he’s so big.”
For Ryan, being recognized is now something that he takes in stride. “It doesn’t ever get old," he said. "It’s just a little weird because I don’t know the people and sometimes I don’t really know what to say.”
As for his potential rivalry with Clausen, Mallett contends that it's much ado about nothing. “I’ve never even met him," he said. "I’m just focused on what we’re doing down here at Texas High and winning a championship.”
In the Beginning
Mallett grew up in Arkansas, and because he was a June baby, he was held back an extra year before starting kindergarten. That prompted one teacher to proclaim to his parents “you can’t hold him back…he’s going to be bigger than everyone in his class!”
Towering over his family and friends is something Mallett has long been accustomed to. He outgrew his father, Jim in the 6th grade. ”He gets his height from my side of the family.” Mrs. Mallett said. “I have a brother who’s 6’7 and a cousin who is a preacher in Michigan who’s 6’11.”
It wasn’t until 6th grade that Ryan got the chance to play organized football. Up to that point he and his family lived in Northwest Arkansas, an area which lacked a youth football program. His early football world consisted of being the ball boy for the high school team his dad coached. When his family moved to Texarkana, Ryan made the move from the sideline to the field. However, since there were weight restrictions on skill positions, he was forced to play on the line. Once in middle school, though, he moved to quarterback.
A young Mallett picked up the position quickly…partly because he had to. In his first year at Texas High, he was pulled up from the freshman team to take over for injured senior starter Chris Marshall. It took the youngster a while to get going, as the two teams battled to a scoreless tie heading into the third quarter. Mallett changed that when he eluded a blitzing safety and fired a 93-yard touchdown pass for the Tigers’ first score. They went on to win 21-0.
After winning two games as a starter, it was back to the freshman team for Mallett. It wasn’t for long, though. Marshall was suspended for disciplinary reasons, thrusting Mallett back into starter's position for the state semifinal game at Texas Stadium. He found out right before the team was getting on the bus to Dallas. “At first, I was nervous," he said. "After that, I was ready to play.”
Down 17-13 late in the game to North Crowley, Mallett drove the Tigers the
length of the field on a two minute drive. Unfortunately, it was not meant to
be. An interception in the end zone sealed the game for North Crowley. Still,
onlookers knew they were watching a future star. Mallett finished the game 13/26,
210 yards and a touchdown.
For the rest of this story on Ryan
Mallett, plus features on Ryan Mundy, Rondell Biggs, College Football
best Rivalries, and more, check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine
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