The Brother Rice (Bloomfield, Mich.) High Class of 2015 quarterback visited Penn State Saturday, less than five months after Lions linebacker coach Ron Vanderlinden stopped by his school during last spring' evaluation period. So Malzone already has a keen interest in Penn State, much of it thanks to Vanderlinden's approach and O'Brien's pro-style offense.
It's not fair to say Malzone wouldn't have known much, or gave second thought to, the Lions before their staff got in contact with him. What is fair to say, however, is that early interest often leads to intriguing gains in the recruiting process. Especially when O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher apply what can only be described as a strict, defined method for recruiting quarterbacks.
"We've been talking ever since [Vanderlinden came to Brother Rice]. They wanted me to come to camp, but because I play summer baseball, I couldn't make it," Malzone said. "I talked to Coach Fisher on the phone a few times, and they said to send them my highlights and come out for a game, so I chose Central Florida."
Saturday marked one of two remaining opportunities for Malzone to hit the road during his regular season, as Brother Rice plays most of its games on fall Saturdays. With the other open date coming Oct. 5 -- when Penn State is on the road at Indiana -- he and his family piled into their car to make the six-hour-and-change drive to University Park.
Malzone arrived at the stadium shortly before the recruiting lounge opened at 3 p.m., which gave him the opportunity to watch Penn State arrive at the stadium to a large gathering of fans. "Really cool," is how he defined the scene from his perch in the lounge.
"Special," is what he called the opportunity to briefly chat with Vanderlinden and Fisher before kickoff, and "great" was how he labeled the play of State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who finished 21 of 28 for 262 yards and a score.
"It was sweet. I love that stadium, and that was really cool seeing the players warm up, the student section being right there before the game, and the whole team being in the game, which I like," Malzone said. "Coach Fisher and Vanderlinden said they haven't had a chance to watch my highlights from this year, but they are going to soon.
"They said Coach O'Brien watched my sophomore highlights, and that I should keep in touch and keep doing what I'm doing. It meant a lot to know they had been preparing for the game itself, but made time to talk to me two hours before the game. I like coaches who try to make people feel special a lot."
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound gunslinger has played a big role in boosting Brother Rice to a 3-0 start, passing for 668 yards and five scores while completing 45 of 61 passes. His play has been limited late in games once his team has already built a sufficient lead, but it hasn't stopped programs such as Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Tennessee and Vanderbilt from reaching out and showing interest in him. Western Michigan, Toledo and Old Dominion have already extended verbal scholarship offers.
Penn State didn't win Saturday, but that didn't diminish the visit, Malzone said. The result is not the important part of any visit in his mind. Rather, whether he can envision himself going to the school he is visiting is the most important thing he looks for on any trip, along with academic opportunities. He also gives preference to programs that run a pro-style offense.
Malzone placed a check mark next to all three items after his visit, which also included stops around various State College locations. He was impressed when he heard Lions' fan show up at 8 a.m. to begin tailgating for the day's contest, and was also pleased by the Penn State signs and memorabilia that was found around the hotel he stayed in. All of it put together, he said, leads to the appearance of one town behind one team, something the quarterback said he likes.
Brother Rice returns to the field Saturday against De La Salle Collegiate (Warren, Mich.), which will provide another opportunity for Malzone to feature his strengths. He counts among them quality vision, a strong arm and accuracy.
After Saturday, he has a clear vision of Penn State, too.
"They ran a no-huddle, which obviously is always good. Hackenberg ran anything he wanted to, which I like," Malzone said. "He's a true freshman, and the coaches are behind him. He's a great player and I really like that.
"Coach Vanderlinden and Coach Fisher seem like great people, and seem like they have their priorities straight."