Oct. 13, 2005
On any given day, Tom Malone is either kicking, practicing his drop, or rehabilitating his injured hip. The USC senior lives and breathes football ... thanks, in part, to the fact that the punter doesn't have too much else to do.
Malone considered leaving USC last spring after his junior season (and declare for the NFL draft), so he set himself up to graduate early. Even considering he entered college a semester early, the fact that he was on pace to graduate with a degree in political science in only seven semesters was a testament to his work in the classroom.
But he decided to stay with the Trojans and play in the 2005 season and left himself with three more credits to take this fall.
NCAA rules stipulate a student-athlete may take however many units he needs to graduate in his final semester and still remain eligible.
'So that's what I'm doing,' said Malone, whose one-course load has been overshadowed by quarterback Matt Leinart's much publicized ballroom-dancing-class-only schedule.
Malone worked out a directed research project with a professor that will get him the three credits necessary to receive his diploma.
'I meet with the professor two to three times a semester,' said Malone.'It's nice because I have more time to focus on football.'
With his sparse, Leinart-like school schedule, Malone has plenty of time to focus on football from kicking to rehabbing to the all-important dropping the ball.
Because he's not on campus as much anymore, his fellow Trojans may not see him walking around with his football, dropping it all the time. He learned the importance of the drop early in his college career.
'As a freshman, I was really inconsistent because of my drop,' Malone said.'I'd be really sore too because I would kick everyday.'
Malone amended his practice schedule: he decided to kick only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and focus on his drops during practices on the other days.
'I get in enough work and I'm still fresh,' Malone said.
So what does Malone do all practice?
'I work on my drop,' said Malone, who also serves as the holder on PATs for the fourth year in a row, which gets him on the field more than punting.'It's not boring. It's just a routine that I'm used to.'
Tom Malone's work has paid off. Malone's career punting average (44.5) is above the USC record and just short of the Pac-10 record (44.6 by UCLA's Kirk Wilson).
Malone was tabbed a 2005 Playboy preseason All-American for the second consecutive season and is coming off a 2004 that saw him named an All-Pac-10 first teamer for the second straight year. A 2004 SI.com All-American honorable mention, he earned 2003 AP All-American second team honors as well.
He's also a Ray Guy award candidate, an award that goes to the nation's top punter, though his lack of action will hurt that campaign.
Malone's kicking (and dropping) prowess have caused a few superfans to sit up and take notice.
Last year, fans created the website www.malone4heisman.com, campaigning for the punter to by the recipient of college football's most prestigious award. Although the site is now under construction, Malone got to check it out when it was in its full glory.
'I looked at it once when I first heard about it,' Malone said. 'It's weird to see a site about yourself. But it's awesome. I'm really flattered.'
Outside of football, Malone struggles a bit to stay busy.
'I have so much time that I don't know what to do,' Malone said.
Malone's working on establishing some hobbies.
'I watch TV sometimes. I watch 'Law & Order' every now and then,' Malone said. 'I also play cards with some guys on the team once a week.'
Malone is as humble about cards as he is about football. 'I'm okay,' he says of his card playing skills.
With his intensity for what he does, maybe he could take up Madden or some other football-related video game. But Malone tried that, too.
'No, I'm bad at those,' Malone said.
His attempts at hobbies have struck out so Malone is left with a full-time focus on football.
The highly potent USC offense this year hasn't given Malone much chance to punt (until the ASU game). But he is more than content with watching from the sidelines as his teammates score touchdowns.
In USC's 45-13 victory at Oregon, Malone punted twice, a season-high at the time. A couple days after, he said, tongue in cheek, 'I saw a lot of action that day.'
But he adds seriously, 'When we are doing this well, I just think, 'This is awesome. I'll get my chance to punt when it comes.'
By Colleen Murray, Sports Information student assistant