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A not-so-small kid from Chicago, Illinois makes it out of his suburb of Bolingbrook to play Division I football at Michigan State. A hometown hero, a mentor and young man that so many below him look up too.
Kind of sounds like a movie, huh?
For Dashaun Mallory, this is truly his reality.
Mallry wound up turning into the exact guy that he had always modeled his own morals after. A quiet individual who kept to himself, yet was universally recognized as an innate leader, not due to his words but through his actions.
“By the time I got to high school, I (wound) up in that (leader) position without even knowing,” Mallory said. “It was just kind of funny going through high school (and) realizing that certain guys were looking up to me and I was still in school too.”
Now, Mallory is a defensive lineman for Arizona State University who transferred to Tempe to earn his masters degree after spending four years at Michigan State.
After speaking with him, it was clear that he really was a hometown hero who made it out of the suburbs where there is not much going on.
Mallory has a perfect mixture of respectfulness, humbleness and confidence.
“I know there’s people looking up at me and I really do take this football stuff very seriously,” Mallory said. “It’s always been a lifelong dream just because where I come from nobody really does (anything.)”
A champion’s mentality
Mallory likened the experience of graduating from high school and participating in college sports to adopting a heroic mindset. A mindset that instilled everlasting confidence in him, more than he was already graced with from a young age.
“I think I’ve always had (confidence) since I was a little kid,” Mallory said. “I think my parents kind of instilled in me that if you can believe in something, go after it.”
Bolingbrook, is considered a small-big town that lies among the historic Route 66 with a population of just over 73,000.
As a junior at Bolingbrook High School, Mallory was already listed at 6-foot-2, 291 pounds for the Raiders. The defensive lineman was ranked as the No. 12 player in the state of Illinois and was a top three defensive lineman in the state.
From a young age, it was clear that Mallory was special and had talents that few others possessed. In his 2017 season with the Raiders, he was named to the All-State team and recorded 12 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, forced six fumbles and scored two touchdowns his senior season.
“No matter what I do, I always believe I can be the best,” Mallory said. “I always think I can overcome anything, and I definitely do believe, in my head, that I’m the strongest to do anything.”
As a result of this mindset, Mallory indeed was one of the best.
He was a three star recruit out of highschool and committed to Michigan State late into his senior year. The college is just about three and a half hours northeast of his hometown.
Although it truly does sound like the plot of a trendy 2000’s movie, Mallory indeed followed his dreams of making it out of his hometown where no one did anything and became a Division I football player for a booming program in Michigan State.
“I felt like I always had it in my heart to kind of be a symbol, like a sense of hope, that you can do it too,” Mallory said.
A struggle with fluctuations in more than one sense
While everything had started to look up for the young defensive lineman who had committed to play for a Division I college that was ranked No. 15 the year prior, he found himself in the midst of struggling to find playing time for the Spartans.
The young college student could not quite grasp what was holding him back from more field time – he thought he was doing everything that was expected of him and beyond.
He had always been a hard worker, so why was it not paying off for him now?
With all of this on the table, the biggest challenge he was facing was trying to find a weight that would make the program happy.
Upon his arrival in East Lansing, he was immediately put on a weight program by the department because they thought that the 260 pound lineman was too… light?
“I’m in college (and I’m) lifting, so I’m thinking I’m doing something good. Then I started to realize, ‘wait, hold on, I’m 300 pounds. I’m 300 pounds plus. This is not who I am,’” Mallory said. “I felt like I was just kind of wasting my time in college. I was 350, I thought I was doing something they wanted and then I’m not playing.”
Anyone who has struggled with balancing their weight in a fashion that is meant to appease other parties understands the mental struggles that coincide.
Then the tides began to shift – at least a little bit.
After the 2020 season with Michigan State, the redshirt sophomore finally earned himself some playing time, appearing in seven games for the Spartans and earning his first career start against Northwestern University.
Although his playing time was increasing, he was still unhappy with his athletic abilities on the field.
Mallory was listed at 345 pounds, the heaviest he had ever been and found himself unable to attain his desired on-field accomplishments.
“I was like, ‘350 (plus) is not who I am,’” Mallory said. “I feel like I’m at my best when I’m fast. I like to run, I like to chase down people and I like being able to continue going play after play.”
Keeping this thought in his mind, he headed straight home to his family after the conclusion of the Covid season. The first words he uttered to his mother were, “I got a month and a half; I can not come back over 300 pounds.”
So he got to work.
In between his redshirt Sophomore season and his Junior season, he shed 60 pounds and added an abundance of muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame.
He then stood at 285 pounds and felt like his highschool self again, building back the confidence that he had been searching for over the past couple of years.
“I felt like I was just growing a little bit,” Mallory said. “I started to pay attention to the system, I started to understand who I was as a person.”
Rising from the coffin
Mallory walks around practice with a smile on his face. It is clear that he is not the lost boy that he used to be.
His social media profiles are filled with the term ‘risen from the coffin.’ An ode to the person he once was.
“Rise from the coffin… I feel like who I was before the whole (weight journey)… he was a very soft guy, (a) people pleaser just surviving in life,” Mallory said. “He definitely was a survivor and I felt like when I gained the confidence to lose the weight, I just felt real powerful in myself. I felt like I gained control of myself, like my mind was in a better place.”
Although Mallory stays persistent in the fact that he has always been a confident person, he does admit that he went through a few challenging years during his time at Michigan State.
Now, he has been “reborn” into the person he once was. That confident kid who made it out of Bolingbrook.
He is simply enjoying his last year of college football in Arizona with high hopes of making it to the NFL in 2024. Further modeling for the kids back home that if he made it out, they can too.
“I’m the guy from the same block, from the same high school, I was sitting in the same class and I did it,” Mallory said.
During my conversation with Mallory, I observed that I’ve never engaged with someone who conveys such a profound gratitude for their current circumstances.
Not about early mornings, long practices, endless unbearingly hot weather and not even about their not-so-hot start to the season.
He is just happy to be playing the game he loves.
“I know this is my last year and I really want to just have fun,” Mallory said. “At the end of the day, (I want to be) that guy that came out here and never complained about anything. Be that guy that can tell the freshman stuff that I never got to learn as a freshman myself and just be a mentor while I can. I know football isn’t gonna last forever and I just hope before it’s over, I can just be somebody to everybody.”
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