That hardly seems like breaking news, right? Dozens of college football players, including four of Malone’s LSU teammates from 2016, opt to forgo their final year of college eligibility.
What makes Malone’s story unique is that he wasn’t debating whether to leave LSU to enter the NFL draft, as Leonard Fournette and Jamal Adams did. Malone thought about giving up sports altogether to become a U.S. marshal.
“It was pretty close. It started building up during the summertime when all the stuff went down with the cops and all that stuff. I just felt like I needed to do something about it,” Malone said, referring to last summer’s sniper attacks against police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas.
“Growing up, my dad [NBA legend Karl Malone], he always wanted to be a cop if he didn’t have the basketball background, so I mean I always had that in my mind that I wanted to help this country somehow.”
Some Malone family members thought K.J.’s exit would happen right up until a January gathering, where he announced to friends and family that his football career would continue for at least another year. A career in law enforcement is just on the back burner for now.
“I love football, don’t get me wrong, but I love this country and I’d do anything for it,” Malone said.
Before focusing on a career outside of football, however, Malone decided to finish some business on the gridiron. He is back for his second season as LSU’s starting left tackle -- a season that might offer opportunities LSU linemen could only dream about before new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s arrival.
Canada’s shift-heavy scheme creates occasional opportunities for outside-the-box trick plays, some of which even put the ball in a lineman’s hands. Canada twice looked to offensive tackle Brian O’Neill last season at Pittsburgh, first feeding him the ball on a throwback lateral against Georgia Tech and later handing off to the 300-pounder on a reverse against Virginia Tech. Both plays went for touchdowns.
Some LSU offensive linemen -- guard Garrett Brumfield is one -- dispute the notion that Malone is the most athletic member of the group, but most seem to agree that Malone is the most likely candidate to become this season’s O’Neill.
“Other than myself, probably … Malone,” Brumfield said of his pick to get the lineman carries. “He’s got some wheels.”
Quarterback Danny Etling agreed, adding, “I would think Karl. I mean, he’s got it in his DNA to be athletic like that. But Toby [Weathersby, LSU’s right tackle], I haven’t seen Toby yet and what he can do. He’s been hurt, so I think that’s the position battle nobody’s talking about.”
This O-line competition for carries might get downright nasty before everything is said and done.
Center Will Clapp is the only member of the group who has scored a touchdown; he dove on a loose ball in the end zone against Ole Miss in 2015. Clapp indicated that he might like to keep it that way.
“I might accidentally miss a block if he catches the ball,” Clapp cracked.
“He tells me that all the time. I can see him doing that,” Malone said when informed of Clapp’s threats. “I can see him tripping me up.”
In all seriousness, Malone knows the possibility exists that he might touch the ball this season, which is both exciting and nerve-wracking for a guy who last handled the ball as an eighth-grade tight end.
“If they call that play, my heart’s going to be beating, like, ‘If I drop this ball, everybody’s going to be, like, never do that play again.’ If I catch a ball, everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I’ll be like the hero,” Malone said. “So it’s kind of a little bit of both. It’s a lineman’s dream to catch a ball during a game.”
That would be one heck of a way to cap a college career, especially considering how close Malone came to moving on from the sport. Law enforcement will be there when his playing days are over, but Malone still wants to see how far he can go in football before putting on a badge someday.
“Football is still in my heart,” Malone said. “That’s one of the main reasons I came back: so I could play football, and my dreams of going to the NFL are still there. ... Some people don’t have the [plan for] life after football, and my dad kind of helped me with life after football, and [working in law enforcement is] something I want to have when I’m done.”