Malone set for center stage

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It started in a YMCA tackle football league in Chattanooga when Josh Malone was 4.

"Truth be told, I didn't start liking football until he started playing football," said Malone's mother, Rebecca, who coaches middle school basketball.

Moves from the Scenic City to Fredericksburg, Va., to Gallatin, Tenn., didn't slow down Malone's ever-rising star.

From scaring defenses half to death while dominating for Station Camp (Tenn.) High School the last four years to becoming a Tennessee Volunteer officially in January, Josh Malone has goals he's met and several more that figure to be obtained.

In 2013 alone, Malone caught 71 passes for 1,404 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Bisons. The final Scout rankings placed him as the best Class of 2014 prospect in the Volunteer State and the No. 12 wide receiver in the country.

Up next are frequent trips to Shields-Watkins Field's checkerboard-painted end zones, becoming an NFL Draft selection and eventually running a business after the cleats are hung.

Business, eh? Yes, not university studies or some sports-related track that makes the academic side of things as simple as possible between the games, practices and workouts.

"That's why we go to college — to get that degree," Rebecca said.

Even if her son plays as long as Hall of Famer Art Monk, his career will end in 2034. That's when three more letters aside from NFL come into play and his major becomes useful.

"When we started this journey," Rebecca said, "talking college, I asked him 'What do you want to do? What do you want to do later in life? You know football is part of it, but you're not going to play football forever.' That's when he said, 'I'd like to be in business because I'd like to be CEO of a company.' OK, well this is what you might want to do then to make that come true."

It seems like the script children all across America have. Yet, here he is, checking off the dreams of thousands with style and grace. They're blessings that his mother takes quite seriously as she already saw so many of Josh's friends and teammates turn in their pads for the final time in November.

"So blessed," said Rebecca, fighting back tears. "I've always said he's a blessed child. We're always grateful. I think this is the beginning of what God has in store for Josh."

Malone wasn't old enough to vote until March 21 (two full weeks after his first college football practice). The 18-year-old's not being on Twitter for the longest (in spite of several fake accounts by others pretending) was probably for the best. A single, solitary drop of a well-thrown pass in a key situation at any point in his career is likely to yield the ire of less intelligent fans.

Rebecca understands that and knows it's the same whether her son had chosen Clemson, Florida State, Georgia or another program in the limelight.

"We're as prepared as we can be," she said. "We found out through his senior year that everybody is not going to like you and everybody is not going to appreciate that you are working to be great. You know you're talented but you're still working to even get better at what you do now. The folks that are really for Josh, they'll allow him that growth. Therefore, it won't weigh as heavy on him. But, he's surrounded by love. So, the naysayers, we just ignore them put them to the curb as they say."

Tennessee's season kicks off on Aug. 31. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Malone will be on full display for the Orange & White.

Have a look at how Malone played his final games on the prep level by clicking play on his highlights below:

Discuss Malone's past, present and future with InsideTennessee premium analysts and subscribers in VolChat by clicking here

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the Scout team July 2011.

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