On Fridays during the 2017 high-school football season, Ken Dennard followed a routine. A teacher and track coach at South Gwinnett High, he got in his car after the school day ended and drove to wherever Parkview High was playing.
His purpose was to get Panthers running back Christian Malloy stretched and warmed up to play. At the end of the school week, it was not a small expense of time and effort, and sometimes it caused him to be late for his own son’s games with South Gwinnett. For a Parkview playoff game, he drove from his home near the Mall of Georgia in Gwinnett County to McEachern High in west Cobb County, about a 50-mile drive.
“I think that game, he had two or three touchdowns,” said Dennard, accurately. (It was three, in a 43-28 loss in a Class AAAAAAA quarterfinal.)
Dennard had a relationship with Malloy – he coached him in track at South Gwinnett before Malloy transferred to Parkview, and then trained him privately in the summer before his senior year. Still, his connection with Malloy hardly compelled him to volunteer himself. But he was happy to do so for an athlete he found to be hardworking, competitive, humble and easy to coach. (Not to mention unusually tight in the lower body.)
“I enjoyed it,” said Dennard, who spent between 30 and 45 minutes getting Malloy loosened up. “I didn’t look at it as anything different.”
Dennard’s service to Malloy, now a Georgia Tech freshman B-back, connected a trio of noteworthy elements in his high-school career. Namely, his transfer after his sophomore year, his productive playing career and the impression that he made on those around him.
“A lot of people liked him, and I was telling him one thing I liked about him the most is he never did anything extra to gain attention from anyone,” Dennard said. “He never sagged his pants. I never heard him use any kind of profane language. It made me respect him even more, because he stayed himself.”
Malloy comes to Tech as an unheralded prospect, one who made a last-minute switch from Florida International to Tech just before the February signing period. He brings a motivation to maximize his potential.
“I guess just my parents, the talent I have,” he said, explaining the source of his drive. “I know what I can achieve, and I don’t want to not achieve what I possibly can and live a different life than I could be living.”
Malloy has the genes for the game. His paternal grandfather played at Arizona. His father, Leonard, played at Grambling. His mother, Traci, was a high-school track star. Two uncles on his mother’s side played college football. His older brother Tra was an offensive lineman at Georgia Southern.
“Since everybody in the family played football, we assumed he’d play ball, but it was nothing that we really pushed on him,” Leonard said. “He loved it, too.”
In eighth grade, he won a national championship with a roster studded with eventual power-conference signees, mostly from Gwinnett County. The most notable was quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a Clemson freshman ranked the No. 1 prospect in the country in the 2018 class. That was about when Malloy figured he could be pretty good.
“Because that’s when I was playing with some other guys who were really good and I was in sync with them, probably just as talented as them or more talented than them,” he said.
While the Malloys live in the Parkview cluster, Traci is a counselor at South Gwinnett. It was the family’s idea that Christian could attend South Gwinnett and, along with two other rising freshmen who were also noteworthy players, help change the school’s culture.
“It’s a good school,” Traci said. “It’s a work in progress.”
At South Gwinnett, Malloy started at running back from the time he was a freshman. He excelled in the classroom. But after two years, his parents decided to transfer him to Parkview for various reasons, one being that they believed he would be more challenged academically there than South Gwinnett.
“It wasn’t just one major thing,” said Leonard, who is on the staff at an alternative school in Gwinnett. “It was like a lot of things came together. Let’s get him back.”
Christian welcomed the move, as he returned to the district where nearly all of his friends were. The transition was not as smooth for his mother, as some colleagues at the school did not take the transfer well.
“There were some people that I was like, you need to chill out,” Traci said. “Because it got bad.”
Dennard said that “a lot of parents” at South Gwinnett were disappointed with the decision. For Dennard, among other things, it meant he lost the leadoff runner in his 4x100-meter relay.
“But as a parent, I understand why his mother did it, why his parents did it,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s what’s best for the child.”
Eventually, Traci said, time healed wounds. How her son had comported himself in two years at South Gwinnett, where he earned high marks, performed well on the field and was a class leader, helped.
After he signed with Tech, Malloy’s mother said, “I think every person that was angry, they either called or emailed and said congratulations. They said he’s great, and we’re happy for him.”
At Parkview, he split carries as a junior and ran for 763 yards on 104 carries. As a senior, in just nine games, he ran 118 times for 1,538 yards, a whopping 13 yards-per-carry average. He showed breakaway speed, vision, agility and an ability to drive his legs to break tackles.
His productivity was all the more significant given that he was coming back from an ACL tear suffered during his junior year.
“From an athletic standpoint, it was pretty amazing,” Parkview assistant coach Javier Munoz said. “We weren’t sure what he would come up with. You knew with his fortitude and character that he was going to come back strong. You just didn’t know how strong. He’s as tough as they come.”
Malloy figures to only improve his speed and agility as more time passes from his surgery (performed, coincidentally, by Tech team physician John Xerogeanes). He’ll start out at Tech at B-back behind KirVonte Benson, Jerry Howard and Jordan Mason. He conceivably could move out to A-back.
“I’m just excited and anxious to see what it’s going to be like being on my own,” Malloy said in late May, a couple of weeks before he was to report to Tech. “What workouts are going to be like, what football’s going to be like on a collegiate level. I just can’t wait to see it all.”
Malloy graduated with a 3.5 GPA. He thinks he may pursue a post-football career in cyber security.
Munoz, a community coach who leads Parkview’s defensive backs, got to know Malloy through a weekly mentorship group that Munoz led and Malloy attended consistently during his two years at Parkview. The group is part of a ministry called NG3, which is aimed at character development, community service and spiritual growth among high-school athletes. Munoz awarded Malloy with the NG3 award at Parkview’s team banquet for his exemplification of the ministry’s vision.
“Tech’s getting a winner,” Munoz said. “I know that they’re getting a stud of an athlete, but they’re (also) getting a great young man.”
The sixth in a series of profiles of members of Tech’s incoming freshman class.
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