Leadership and inspiration oftentimes come from expected sources and it’s no different on the football field.
The quarterback on offense and many times the middle linebacker or safety on defense are called on to provide leadership, vision, and energy.
That norm holds true for Louisiana-Lafayette, as quarterback Jordan Davis and safety Tracy Walker have made their presence known.
But the Cajuns have also come to lean on an unexpected source for inspiration and energy — sophomore wide receiver Ryheem Malone.
Malone, who leads the team with 12 catches and a touchdown from his slot position, has brought a lot more than speed and explosiveness the Ragin’ Cajuns offense. Despite being a relatively quiet guy, he brings leadership and energy to his teammates through his actions, something he’s conscious of every day.
“I see a lot of people feed off the energy I bring,” Malone said. “If I'm down and having a bad day and bring that out on the practice field, I feel like it might rub off on some of my teammates. But if I come out with energy, going hard and motivating everyone around me, it's a successful practice.”
Even if he’s having a rough day before practice, Malone said he understands the importance of the spark he brings.
“I'm here to help my teammates and coaches and bring a positive attitude as soon as I step through the gate," he said. "Everything else that's outside the gate doesn't matter.”
Malone, who redshirted a year ago after transferring from SMU, picked up a lot from watching former Cajuns standout Al Riles.
“I look at (Riles) and say he was a perfect leader, the way he led, the things he did on the field, the way he handled his business and carried himself, he was a perfect leader," Malone said.
The Cajuns (1-1) will need Malone’s big-play ability at 11 a.m. Saturday when they travel to take on Texas A&M (1-1).
In addition to providing Davis an outlet from the slot, Malone handles the punt return duties for coach Mark Hudspeth’s team. Malone’s explosiveness and fearlessness has given new life to a punt return unit that was one of the worst in the country a year ago.
Louisiana-Lafayette averaged just 5.4 yards per punt return in 2016, ranking 103rd nationally. This year, through two games, Malone is averaging 26 yards per return, ranking him third in the nation.
Malone, along with 15 other Cajuns, will be returning to their home state of Texas to take on the Aggies.
“It's exciting, but it's something you have to control because it's another football game," said Malone, Houston native. "At the same time, it's going to feel good being back at home.”
The trip that now carries an extra meaning for Malone, who ran the Texas flag out of the tunnel during the Cajuns' season opener to help honor Texas after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding and property loss.
“Looking back on carrying the flag, it meant a lot,” Malone said. “The storm affected a lot of different people in different ways. It meant more than a lot to me, to be picked to do it.”