ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - Corey Malone-Hatcher lasted five quarters before the first stumbling block of the season arrived.
Malone-Hatcher helped St. Joseph start a 52-6 dismantling of Gull Lake on Thursday before exiting with an ankle injury after a couple drives. He got in a couple tackles from his new linebacker position and blocked a punt, although officials called him for roughing the kicker even though he contacted the ball first.
Crutches and an ice pack took the place of pads for the remainder of the game. Malone-Hatcher, a four-star junior defensive end, hopes to be back in action next week.
“My backup stepped in and he played with high confidence,” he said. “First drive was a little shaky for him but I gave him a little pep talk and it looked like he was into it. I’m just glad we were well coached and prepared for the situation. We played well and finished with like a 48-point lead. I couldn’t be happier with the result. Obviously, didn’t want to get hurt but we’ll just focus on getting back for the next one.”
Malone-Hatcher won’t let a bum ankle mess with the rest of his weekend.
He’ll be one of several underclassmen expected at Notre Dame on Saturday for its season opener against Texas. It won’t be the first time Malone-Hatcher has watched the Irish play at night, but that doesn’t dampen the expectations.
“I’ve been to Notre Dame under the lights,” Malone-Hatcher said. “I know what it’s like. It gets chaotic, hectic. The biggest thing for me is getting back around the coaching staff. I want to keep developing that relationship and I’m excited to be able to do that. I talked to most of the staff, all of the defensive staff on Twitter already with Sept. 1 hitting and everything. I got a ton of mail (Thursday) and a few more letters (Friday). They’ve made sure to show that I’m a priority. I like the vibe that I’m getting from them.”
Notre Dame dispatched defensive line coach Keith Gilmore to St. Joseph multiple times during the spring evaluation period. He’s both area recruiter and potential position coach.
Malone-Hatcher last visited for the Irish Invasion, where he worked with Gilmore.
“I think the biggest impression for me is he’s just consistent,” Malone-Hatcher said. “What I hear from the players, what I hear from people around the program, they all tell me the same thing that I’m feeling. He’s a family guy but he’s also very intense. He likes to work hard but at the same time he’ll take the time to break it down for you. He rushes, but under control. It’s a high work ethic.”
Next week Malone-Hatcher plans to be at Michigan State for its game against Oregon. Another trip to Notre Dame plus a couple stops at Michigan, most notably for the Ohio State game, could also be in the works.
Some programs have built more familiarity, but Malone-Hatcher doesn’t see a big distinction at this point.
“I wouldn’t say (anyone) really leapt ahead,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with Michigan, Notre Dame and Penn State since the very beginning of my freshman year. I have a very strong relationship with all of them. Right now I couldn’t see myself making a decision. Really, it’s too close right now. Luckily, I have time to ride it out and see if I can get some separation. I’m looking forward to that day, I just don’t think I’m there yet.”