Change brings change and for some, not all of it is for the better.
When Will Muschamp was hired as the head football coach at the University of South Carolina last December, he promised a new beginning. Included among his first order of duties was bringing in an almost entirely new staff, save for Camden native and 2015 interim Gamecock head coach Shawn Elliott.
The moves hardly stopped there, however.
The entire program was re-evaluated including players as the new regime sought to find out what tweaks needed to be made. In trying to make a clean-break from the Steve Spurrier years and to bring players into the fold who would be in it for the long haul, players left the program; some on their own accord or others who had the facts laid out before them in what direction Muschamp and company wanted to head.
Chalk Cedrick Malone up as being part of the latter camp.
A three-year member of the Gamecocks as a linebacker, the walk-on and 2011 Camden High graduate was among the players who were not retained by the new staff in Columbia.
Even though the six-foot, 210-pounder earned his degree from USC in interdisciplinary studies this past spring, there was still a burning desire on his part to give playing college football one more crack. With another year of eligibility remaining as a post-graduate player, Malone’s final collegiate stop will be at Charleston Southern University.
Malone, 23, said it was tough being told by USC linebackers coach Coleman Hutzler that the program wanted to give younger players a longer look who would be part of the program for more than one season. That news set Malone’s wheels in motion as to finding a new school and a landing spot for playing football.
“After spring practice,” said the former All-Region 6-AAA safety at Camden High School, “there was a meeting with the coaches and they decided it was best to move in a different direction and they wanted to go with a youth movement. They were honest with me. They said, ‘You had a good spring but we’re looking to add space to the roster.’
“It is what it is at this point.”
Some of the schools which Malone looked into before deciding on Charleston Southern included The Citadel, North Carolina State, Kansas, Central Florida and East Carolina, among others. In the end, he said, the chance to stay close to home and be part of a program which was recently tabbed as the pre-season favorite in the Big South Conference was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“Charleston Southern just seemed like the best fit for me as a school, money-wise and staying in state,” he said. “They’re going to give me the best opportunity to show what I can do.”
Malone’s college career started when he enrolled at Coastal Carolina University in January of 2012. He participated in spring football drills with the Chanticleers before transferring to USC the following January. He joined the Gamecocks’ football team for the first time in August of 2013 when the team roster was expanded.
In 2014, Malone was a Spur linebacker on the scout team while seeing action in a win over Furman and recorded a tackle in the contest. Moved to strong outside linebacker last fall, Malone did not record any numbers on defense but was a member of the SEC’s Fall Academic Honor Roll for his work in the classroom. At CSU, he is seeking to earn his master’s degree in business administration.
Malone harbors dreams of trying to get invited to an NFL training camp and his hopes his third stop will be the charm in that quest. In addition to a breath of fresh air at CSU, he will also be returning to his former high school posts.
“They said they want me to play at corner and safety and, probably, nickel (defensive back), too,” he said. “They want me to play a little bit of everything and to learn the defense.”
Malone said the defensive scheme run by Buccaneer defensive coordinator Chad Staggs is similar to that which USC employed in 2013 and 2014. “That fits my skill set more,” Malone said of the CSU defensive package. “It’s all about fit and where you fit in with a defense. I feel like I’ll fit in well with their defense.”
While he will be one of the veteran players in terms of age, Malone was a newcomer when CSU opened pre-season practice. Malone said he has worked hard throughout the summer in Columbia and having been part of an SEC program the past three seasons should help make for an easy transition as he steps down to the Football Championship Series ranks.
“I’ve been in college for four years,” he said, “I don’t think it will be much of an adjustment for me after not having been there for spring practice and having to learn their system.”
Malone headed to Charleston after being let go by the Gamecocks in a move which he did not necessarily see coming, even with a new staff on board in Columbia. Attending USC and playing for the Gamecocks was a dream come true for the longtime fan. Even when Muschamp brought new blood into the program and Malone’s former coaches were gone, he was excited to stay on.
“I expressed to them that I wanted to be a part of this new era and this program,” Malone said. “(Hutzler) was straight-up with me, though. At our meeting, I said that ‘I didn’t see this coming.’”
Malone said he heard from Muschamp several weeks ago and said the new coach said he had heard from several of Malone’s former coaches and teammates of Malone’s desire to play. In the end, Malone said, he was a victim of too many players and not enough slots on the squad.
“(Muschamp) said he heard about my desire to play but it came down to being a numbers thing,” he said. “He said that if something were to open up for the fall that he would let me know.”
When the Gamecocks’ roster was filled for the 2016 campaign, Malone said he gave thought to putting football behind him as he was only days away from receiving a college diploma. He said he heard from people on both sides of the fence. There were those, he said, who told him that he should be happy with having been part of an SEC program and to embark on a career in the “real” world. While others told him to follow his football dream through until all roads had been exhausted.
After weighing his options, he could not turn down a chance to play football again.
“I thought to myself, ‘Do I really want to do this anymore,’” he said of giving up football. “I talked to my family and friends and they support me in whatever decision I make. A lot of the guys and coaches were saying how hard I worked and all I needed was one good year and I would get my opportunity at the next level because I have the athletic ability to play at the next level.”
Instead, Malone went searching for a school where he could advance himself both as a grad student as well as a football player. CSU fit both bills. “I figure, ‘Why not keep going,’” he said of his decision to play football.
At USC, Malone said he went up against “the best of the best” each day in practice. He expects similar efforts in going up against his Buccaneer teammates who have turned the program into one of the best at the FCS level.
Another difference will be the game day experience. When he suited up for games at Williams-Brice Stadium, Malone could look into the stands and see 80,000-plus fans decked out in garnet and black. The biggest crowd for a single game at Buccaneer Field was the 7,954 who came out for a game with cross-town rival, The Citadel, in 2014.
Malone and the Bucs will see substantial crowds this season starting with the Aug. 27 opener at five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State which plays its game in the Fargodome, a raucous 19,000-seat indoor facility. And if Malone is homesick for even larger crowds, CSU will make a trip to Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee for a game with Florida State on Sept. 10.
“It’s going to be a good experience. I think it’s going to be good for me,” said Cedrick Malone as he prepared to embark on his first and last collegiate football season. “I’m ready for the challenge and ready to see what happens at Charleston Southern.”