Ben Malcolmson was just searching for a good story to write for the Daily Trojan when he found himself on the roster of the top-ranked college football team in the country. Now, 12 years later, he still sits next to former USC coach Pete Carroll as his special assistant at the Seattle Seahawks.
After covering the USC football team for three years for the student paper, Malcolmson decided to try out as a walk-on in Spring 2006 to get an inside look at the process for his Daily Trojan column. Two days later, he got a call: He made the team.
“It was a golden opportunity, and I couldn’t pass it up. The door was wide open. I had to do it,” Malcolmson said. “[My options were] newspaper career or football for one year. [I said], ‘Let’s go for it. It’s a risk worth taking.’”
He hadn’t played organized football since his Pee Wee days, but in the fall he suited up as redshirt senior No. 24 on the sideline of the Coliseum. He enrolled in graduate school for journalism to stretch his eligibility.
Following a whole season of showing up to practice and overcoming a shoulder injury, Malcolmson finally received the moment he was waiting for from Carroll. No. 24 took the field against Notre Dame at the Coliseum on Nov. 25, 2006 for the very last snap before beating the Irish 44-24.
“It was so surreal. I couldn’t even process things,” Malcolmson said, while reflecting on the play. “It felt like one of those movie scenes where you’re kind of removed from the situation. It’s hard to fathom even right now.”
As powerful as that moment was for him, Malcomson knew he was involved in a greater spiritual purpose after getting the call that he made the team. He tried bringing Bible studies and prayer groups to the team but felt discouraged when these failed. As his final attempt, he anonymously gifted everyone on the team a Bible for Christmas, but he walked in the locker room one day to find them strewn all over the floor and thrown in trash cans.
Malcolmson did not know the impact that he actually had on his team until he saw one of the Bibles on the coffin of his former teammate and friend, Mario Danelo, who passed away after falling off a cliff, as it was carried down the aisle just a few years later. It turned out that he didn’t know how to read a Bible, but he’d learned to just three days before his death.
When the season ended, Carroll started a media website for updates on the football team.
“It was just the right place at the right time,” Malcolmson said.
Malcolmson commented on Carroll’s intentional relationships he built with everyone around him at USC and of the media, even just a student reporter like himself. With that mutual trust already established between them, he went to work on the USC football website.
“It was like Twitter before Twitter,” Malcolmson said. “We had this blog that we updated like 15 times a day, so people just kept coming back to it. [It] was about bringing people on the inside.”
They continued working closely, and soon enough the bond that would last more than 14 years started forming. Carroll moved to Seattle and quickly asked Malcolmson to come up and do the same job he was doing with him at USC. He went, and transitioned to helping Carroll with whatever he needed.
“Through [the work we did at USC], we developed such a good relationship because I was at his hip the whole time,” Malcolmson said. “And here we are, nine years later, still up in Seattle.”
On Friday, Malcolmson came back to USC and sat behind a table in front of the campus bookstore, signing copies of his recently published book, “Walk On.” He hugged the friends that came to support, wearing shirts that said “Get Ben In” with the number 24 on the back — replicas of what some students wore during his season to show their support —and passed them out to the line of people. Scot Obler, his old friend and photographer took pictures of Malcolmson talking to little kids with wide eyes and bouncy feet, excited to meet someone they admired.
The cover of his book reads, “From Pee Wee dropout to the NFL sidelines — my unlikely story of football, purpose, and following an amazing God.” It’s his raw story that he brings to people as a published author and inspirational speaker who has lived and learned from arguably one of the best coaches in all levels of football. He couldn’t have guessed back in 2006 that this would be where he is now.
“This whole journey has taught me, [to take life] just one day at a time,” Malcomson said. “Whatever’s coming next is going to be amazing and far better than I can plan myself.”