Hard work builds up Notre Dame prospect

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

The Malones live by a simple motto: Studs are made. They’re not born.

So when Corey Malone-Hatcher decided as a sixth-grader that he wanted to be a college football player, his father started to design a plan. They had work to do.

An assistant football coach at St. Joseph (Mich.) High, Orlando Malone knew a little bit about what it would take to get his son to reach his goal. Slowly, Malone instilled a workout regimen to build his son into a sought-after athlete.

"We started off with one day a week,” Malone said. “Then we went to two days a week as he got older and progressed ourselves up so that he would naturally grow into it. By the time we got to his eighth grade year, he was already benching 275 pounds and was already dunking.”

One year later, Malone-Hatcher has already landed on the radar of major college football programs. He and his father have already made visits to Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, and most recently, Notre Dame. In total, Malone says they’ve already heard from 17 colleges. This after a freshman season at St. Joe in which Malone tallied 63 tackles and 13 sacks as a defensive lineman.

The progress predates the 11-game 2013 season. It all started with the dedication of a sixth-grade dreamer.

“Ever since then, it's been about improving,” said Malone-Hatcher, now a 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect at 15 years old. “We set the standard for a gym work ethic and making sure that we do whatever we can do every day to be the best that I can be. Once you get into a routine like that, it starts to come more natural after a while. I don't even have to think about it anymore.”

When it came to gaining the attention of college programs, Malone didn’t wait for his son to prove himself on the field last fall. He spent time examining how other high school programs in Michigan gained exposure. He felt that the schools on the east side of the state were receiving the majority of the exposure but wasn’t sure why. Eventually he concluded that the players in those programs were taking advantage of the regional combine and camp scene.

Malone decided they would give the camps a try. He signed up Corey for a National Underclassmen Combine in Chicago for April 2013 to get a gauge on where his son stood against competition his age.

“We decided to go the NUC in Chicago and have an opportunity to go against some other kids and see if we're just good in our area or is it something that may be a little bit more than I'm thinking,” Malone said. “Really what I wanted to do was I wanted to see him have a chance to get his butt kicked.”

The opposite happened. Malone-Hatcher was named the defensive line MVP for the camp, and he received an invite to the Ultimate 100 Midwest combine in June. At the camps, Malone started to make connections to colleges, including ones with the University of Alabama. Later that summer, the two made a visit to Alabama.

When his freshman year started, Malone-Hatcher started making frequent visits to Michigan and Michigan State. The father and son started to learn that major college football programs had the desire to build relationships with younger players. That took Malone by surprise.

“One of the things that I've learned is that most of the time your seniors are going to get 60 percent of a recruiting staff's time,” Malone said. “The junior class is going to get 40 percent. That's for the majority of programs.

“Some of your elite programs that have a lot of resources, they may say we're going to give 60 percent to the seniors, 30 percent to the juniors and then that last 10 percent may start scouting out the sophomores and below."

Malone-Hatcher has yet to field offers from these major programs, but already is getting a leg up on prospects his age. With the exposure came the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the recruiting process years before having to make a decision.

“There's a lot more to trying to find the right college than how good the football team is,” Malone-Hatcher said. “There's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes as far as academics, facilities and coaching staffs. It's a lot more than what you see on the field.”

A kid on a mission, Malone-Hatcher takes each opportunity seriously. He also admits that some of the moments are surreal. A weekend visit to Alabama this April qualified as one.

“I was in the room with the best players in the country and I got to embrace that whole situation and take it all in,” Malone-Hatcher said. “Being around people that are in the situation that I want to be in in a couple of years, it was a very interesting moment for me. I just tried to capture it all and take it all in.”

On April 29, Malone-Hatcher took a closer look at Notre Dame. It was his first visit to the school less than an hour away from his home. The two sides connected after Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur reached out to the head coach at St. Joe.

“It was great. They have a beautiful campus,” Malone-Hatcher said. “You definitely can sense all the tradition. They do a great job with their recruiting videos. It was real hype seeing all their highlights from last season. They did a real good job."

The visits to schools haven’t developed any complacency in Malone-Hatcher. This spring, he’s challenged himself at the invite-only Nike and Rivals camps against older players.

He shakes off any notion of fear being associated with the exposure he’s already received. He’s started to build immunity to pressure.

“It's nerve-wracking going up against four and five-star offensive linemen,” Malone-Hatcher said. “I realize that me being a freshman and them already having four and five stars, I don't really have anything to lose going up against them. If they beat me, they're expected to win. But when I go against them, the only thing I can do is gain from it.”

Strength and speed rarely are the issue. In any failure, it’s often a product of poor technique. With the help from his dad, who coaches offensive and defensive linemen at St. Joe, Malone-Hatcher will continue to perfect the craft.

Too much time, effort and money have already been put forth to let the opportunity slip away.

“From all the training that we've been doing, I noticed that he has a good blend of size and speed, first step off the ball,” Malone said. “Every coach that we talk to always comments on the first step off the ball and how fast he is. Now he's kind of transitioning into using his power more and being able to battle guys that are a lot older.”

Another summer of hard work awaits. Soon the two will make a plan for camps to attend in the months before his sophomore season begins. Notre Dame will likely make the schedule.

“I have to be selective with which ones I go to because I don't want to stretch out myself too far only being a freshman,” Malone-Hatcher said. “I already have the exposure that all the other kids are trying to get. I want to prove myself and make sure that everybody knows that I deserve all the attention I've been getting recently.”

TJames1@SBTinfo.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Corey Malone-Hatcher, a freshman defensive lineman at St. Joseph (Mich.) High School performs a drill in Chicago's Nike Football Training Camp. (Student Sports/TOM HAUCK)