Introducing Tom Malone, USC's New Punter
Sept. 24, 2002
Once upon a time, there was a freshman at Temescal Canyon (Calif.) High who joined the football team in order to meet people and make friends.
Before long, thanks to his good hands, he found himself playing wide receiver.
But one day, something happened that changed his life.
He dropped a pass.
It was just one of several passes he dropped during practice that day. Except this time, there was a difference.
This dropped pass sent him over the edge.
Boiling over in anger and frustration, he took the ball and kicked it as hard as he could. The ball sailed high into the air.
And kept going.....and going.
That was the day that Tom Malone became a punter.
'The coaches saw that and made me the punter,' said Malone, who is now USC's first true freshman punter since John Stonehouse in 1992. 'After that, I was primarily a punter, though I still played some wide receiver. I still kind of miss being a receiver, though.'
He certainly had the speed for it. You see, Malone is not your typical punter. The Trojans have a bonafide athlete back there.
'I ran the 100 meters, 200 meters and the 1600-meter relay in high school,' said Malone. 'My best 100 time was 11 seconds flat. My 200 time is 22.3, which is my high school's record. My split in the relay was about 50 seconds. I think my leg speed really helped my punting develop.'
USC first got a look at Malone back when he was a sophomore, while the coaches were recruiting former Trojan defensive lineman Nate Goodson, who also prepped at Temescal Canyon. When the summer before his senior season rolled around, recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron remembered Malone and gave him a call, inviting him to USC's one-day camp. That's when he was offered a scholarship. For Malone, USC was a perfect fit.
'I really liked the coaches and I liked how they put an emphasis on special teams,' said Malone. 'You can really see the attitude of these coaches. You can tell they really believe the program is heading in a good direction.'
Malone liked that attitude so much, he graduated high school early to enroll at USC in the spring of 2002. It's a decision he does not regret for a minute.
'One of the reasons I came to USC was that I knew I could help the team right away,' said Malone, who along with junior offensive lineman Jacob Rogers and freshman fullback Brandon Hancock, is one of three players to leave high school a semester early to come to Troy. 'It was definitely worth it to leave high school early. That has really helped me to be ready for this season.'
After three games, Malone is sixth in the Pac-10 with an average of 40.9 yards per punt. Though he has had some growing pains, he clearly has one of the best legs around (five of his 18 punts have traveled 50-plus yards) and it is only a matter of time before he puts it all together.
'My strengths are my distance and hang time,' said Malone, who routinely booms 70-yarders in practice. 'I need to work on my situational punting, my direction and the coffin corner punts.'
Malone credits his high school coach for getting him to this point.
'My coach was Marcus Williams, an All-Pac-10 punter at Arizona State back in the mid-1990s,' said Malone. 'He is a great coach. He taught me everything I knew and changed me from a three-step to a two-step punter. He is the one who told me that I had a college leg and that if I got my timing down, I could play at the next level.'
Playing at this next level isn't as easy as it seems. It's a whole different thing to be playing in front of thousands of people, as opposed to kicking the ball in practice--a difference duly noted by Malone.
'I was really nervous when I had my first punt,' said Malone, whose averaged 42 yards on three punts in his debut against Auburn. 'The crowd didn't bother me as much as I feared, so I settled down after that.'
Malone knows how important his job is. He comes into the game after the offense fails, so a good punt by him can really provide a pick-me-up for his team.
'When you are a punter, you can really take the wind out of the other team's sails,' said Malone, who has had seven of his punts pin opponents within the 20-yard line so far. 'In the end, the best punt is one that doesn't get returned. It's all about net punting. If you can pin a team deep, it's hard to go 80 or 90 yards against our defense.'
Make no mistake about it, by the time his career is through at USC, Malone will have have broken the hearts of many an offense.
by Chris Huston, Assistant Sports Information Director