Football: Malone reps Texas post-Harvey - 'It meant a lot'
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 4, 2017
Back in Texas, where UL’s Ryheem Malone and his family are from, the focus was on Hurricane Harvey and all the devastation left in its wake.
But on Saturday night the Houston-area high school product and SMU transfer managed to put aside the worries for a few hours and instead stir up a storm of his own.
The backup slot receiver had a team-high four catches for 37 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown reception, in his Ragin’ Cajun debut.
On top of that, the fourth-year junior returned two punts for 52 yards – including a long of 31 – in UL’s 51-48 season-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana.
“Ryheem Malone,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said, “showed he can be effective not only in the passing game, but how about the punt return game? Wow.”
Before Saturday’s game, Malone – at the request of Hudspeth – had the honor of carrying the Texas state flag onto Cajun Field.
More: UL wins a wild one
Select Cajuns are tapped to carry various flags – American, Louisiana, Acadiana – prior to each of UL’s home games.
The idea for adding Texas’ and choosing Malone came in the aftermath of deadly Harvey, which hit Houston and other areas throughout the state hard.
“It meant a lot,” said Malone, a product of Bellaire High near Houston, “because I have family in Houston and in Jasper that was kind of affected by it.”
Throughout the week, with what was happening there obviously weighing on his mind, Malone tweeted and retweeted about a storm that Hudspeth said prompted relatives of the receiver to be “relocated.”
“It kind of touched my house a little bit,” Malone said.
Yet even as much of America’s fourth-largest city took on an unimaginable amount of flood waters, Malone’s family opened their place of business – Dreams Bar & Lounge on Dixie Drive in Houston – to serve as a neighborhood collection point for survivor supplies.
Malone said water, clothes and “anything to help” were accepted.
UL slot receiver Ryheem Malone (13), from the Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Houston area, carried the Texas state flag into Cajun Field before Saturday's win over Southeastern Louisiana. (Photo: MICHAEL O. CURLEY/SPECIAL TO THE ADVERTISER)
“Now my parents, they’re helping donate water and stuff to Beaumont and Port Arthur,” he said, referencing two other Texas locales heavily impacted by Harvey.
“Just seeing my parents go through that, and them not being able to go to the game (Saturday night), it kind of affected me and touched me.”
Hudspeth also was moved Saturday when he encountered some evacuees from the Beaumont and Houston areas who were among about around 30 families staying in UL’s Lafayette team hotel.
The Cajuns coach wound up distributing about 20-to-30 of his personal tickets to families with small children, hoping, he said, that for at least an evening “they can forget about the tremendous struggles they’re going through.”
Once Saturday’s game started, though, focus for Hudspeth, Malone and the rest of the Cajuns were squarely on the Southland Conference’s Lions.
Malone didn’t seem especially surprised that he came up with four catches, saying he knew his place in the game plan all along.
Cajuns quarterback Jordan Davis wasn’t the least bit shocked either.
“Ryheem definitely is a sparkplug for us,” Davis said of Malone, who had 23 catches for 258 yards and touchdowns against East Carolina and Houston while making four starts over 12 games as an SMU sophomore in 2015.
Malone, who sat out last season in accord with NCAA transfer rules, also had a 52-yard catch off a Davis pass in UL’s 2017 spring game.
“He’s someone that we feel like we can get the ball (to) at any point, in any moment, and we can kind of set him up to get the ball,” Davis said.
“That will help us in short-yardages, and definitely when we push the ball downfield vertically,” the Cajuns QB added. “So I feel like he’s a great asset to our team.”
As for the punt-return yardage, that was all much-needed lagniappe Saturday.
Malone’s second return, the 31-yarder, gave UL the ball at midfield and set up an eventual 3-yard Jordan Wright touchdown run that helped to put the Cajuns ahead 42-35 with just more than five minutes left in the third quarter.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen something like that since Darryl Surgent,” Hudspeth said of Malone’s fearless punt returns.
Surgent – who went on to spend time on the practice squads of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts – was a receiver who returned both punts and kickoffs for the Cajuns.
He fielded 54 punts from 2011-13, including two returned for touchdowns, and left UL as its all-time kickoff return yards leader.
“(Malone) was able to create some big returns (Saturday),” Hudspeth said.
“He had an opportunity early in the game; should have caught one, and let it roll. But after that he came back and really was effective.”
In that regard, Malone – who comes from a state, Texas, where many had to rely on blind faith lately – also wasn’t a bit surprised.
After all, he said, returning punts is all about “just trusting in the plan, trusting in the blockers and just having that attitude that the ball is mine and I’m gonna return it.”