During the USC football team’s historic run from 2002-2005 into college football immortality, the Trojans were led by All-Americans and first-round draft picks galore. From the bone-crunching hits of Troy Polamulu, to the graceful leaps of Reggie Bush, to the composure and debonair of Matt Leinart, USC fans were treated to star-studded teams with well-recognized faces, all except for one, punter Tom Malone.
For a team hailed for its high-octane offense led by the pro-bound leadership of Leinart, Bush, Carson Palmer, Steve Smith, LenDale White, and Mike Williams, it is easy to understand why Tom Malone’s name and face don’t standout in a crowd, let alone a team picture.
But Malone, despite being foreshadowed by the glitz and glamour of his offensive-minded team, was as successful a punter as USC has seen in nearly two decades. As a sophomore in 2003, he averaged 49.0 yards per punt, a stat that would have made him the top punter in the nation, had he met the required number of punts for a season.
For his career, the former-Trojan was a two-time All-Pac 10 punter and was a second-team All-AP punter back in 2004 – a year he averaged almost 44 yards per punt.
After graduating from USC in 2005, Malone took his kicking game to San Francisco as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers. He was cut shortly after the start of training camp in 2006 and has since spent parts of the last three seasons as the practice squad punter for the New England Patriots.
While it appeared the once-elite punter had run out of chances in the NFL, and that his best days were well behind him, this week Malone received a second chance thanks to a familiar friend, former USC Pete Carroll.
Although Carroll and the Seahawks already have a veteran kicker in John Ryan, who just inked a six-year, $ 9.1 million dollar deal last month, Malone will have a chance to showcase his skills this coming July during the Seahawks’ training camp after agreeing to a two-year deal.
While it is not uncommon for competition purposes to bring two punters to training camp, it seems unlikely Malone will make the team given Ryan’s veteran experience and expensive contract. Regardless, for an athlete whose career dating back to his days with USC has been overshadowed by the exploits and accomplishments of others, another chance may be just the thing the 25-year-old Malone needs to make a name for himself.