Will Mallory found himself around Hurricanes tight ends long before first competing as one at Miami.
There were visits to the tight ends room of the New Orleans Saints, meet-and-greet opportunities with the school’s heralded tight ends and loads of film watching on their extended successes in the NFL.
“Growing up, my dad coached for the Saints,” Mallory said. “Shockey was there and I remember always wearing his jerseys. He was someone I always looked up to. And a couple years later, Graham was there. And then, Olsen has always been a guy I looked up to, on and off the field. I just always thought those guys were larger than life.”
More than four years into his college football career, those idols’ inspiration seems to have provided Mallory with mirrored achievement: eight combined touchdowns and about 29 yards per game over the past two seasons.
But Mallory’s successes as Miami’s latest tight end standout haven’t risen without gratitude and a reliance on faith in a sport flooded with both miracles and devastating injuries.
Alongside his teammates, Mallory engages in prayer rituals in the end zone that range back to the field of Providence School — a private, Christian preparatory school in Jacksonville, Fla. — immediately before and after games.
“No matter what it was, win or loss, that was something we always did,” Mallory said. “We’d come together and give thanks, so that’s something I’ve always thought of as important. That’s something special about sports — it brings people together, kind of just like faith and religion.”
As he incorporates spirituality as part of a Hurricanes brotherhood built around tradition, Mallory has faced the game’s oft-daunting risk that lies beyond the togetherness of a team.
In each of the past two years, Mallory missed the bulk of UM’s spring practices due to shoulder injuries. Sitting out of two fall scrimmages before this season wasn’t an option, either.
“At some point, it’s not in your hands anymore,” Mallory said. “You’ve just got to put trust into the bigger picture that God has for you. That’s something that I think I’ve come to realize, stuff you can’t control. Things happen for a reason.”
Once the Hurricanes sputtered to a 2-3 start last season, Mallory missed early opportunities to capitalize as a consistent option in their offense.
The starting nods were there each week, but the expected yardage lacked.
Yet, as the season progressed, Mallory’s determination guided him into regaining momentum.
Mallory scored four touchdowns in the Hurricanes’ final five games, drawing attention from teammates, coaches and NFL scouts as a potential second-round draft selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.
“He’s an unbelievable young man on and off the field, so he continues to work on his craft,” tight-ends coach Stephen Field said. “He will be very successful.”
More celebration still followed Mallory’s late-season dominance.
In November, Mallory announced his decision to return for a fifth season due to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) granted extra year of eligibility from the pandemic’s impact and pursue a master’s degree in applied physiology.
During fall camp and the opening weeks of the season, Mallory’s experience has guided UM’s younger tight ends to blossom in a new offense. First-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who won the Broyles Award for college football’s best assistant coach as Michigan’s offensive coordinator last season, designates schemes reliant on multiple tight ends.
“I definitely feel like we complement each other,” sophomore tight-end Elijah Arroyo said. “When we’re on the field at the same time, we can really just do whatever we want. We’re interchangeable … We’ve been showing signs of greatness.”
Added Mallory, “I’m really fortunate because those guys are as talented as they come. Hopefully I leave them with a positive impact on how to do the right thing. Their skill is what takes them far, but hopefully they pick a thing or two up from me. I also learn from them, they push me to be the best that I can be, so I’m excited that I get to work with this group.”
Mallory and Field, in his fourth season with UM, extend their journey together. Head coach Mario Cristobal, a former offensive tackle on two of Miami’s national championship teams, strives to lead his alma mater back to national prominence.
It was quite the decision to stay for one more season.
“I was excited because I didn’t get that redshirt year during my freshman year. I wish I could have,” Mallory said. “Things kind of fell into place, I’m just fortunate I get this opportunity. I wasn’t ready to leave yet, but I get this last chance to make the most of it.”
With two record-setting wide receivers now in the NFL this fall, Mallory will be relied upon to fill the void of Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley Jr.
“Getting Will Mallory back, that’s another piece that we didn’t have in the spring, so we’ve been excited while obviously being a little bit cautious this fall kind of getting him back into the swing of things,” Gattis said. “He’s a big-time player, he’s a guy that we’ll look forward to and lean on in a lot of critical situations because of the type of player that he is.”
From the influence of his father to the rest of his football-cherishing family, Mallory is set to take on a new challenge.
“From (my dad), my two uncles, my grandpa, they all coached and played football in college,” Mallory said. “We grew up around a lot of football. Any family gatherings, we were always talking or either watching football. So, it was just a part of my blood — my DNA. I grew up to love the game, to part of it, so it was something that I always was passionate about.”
Given UM’s talent development in producing over 280 NFL draft selections since the program’s establishment in 1926, Mallory’s individual goal lies in the NFL to achieve what his Hurricanes tight end idols established.
But with Miami’s season underway, just one goal remains on Mallory’s mind: winning.
“The reason why I came here was the tradition, the championships,” Mallory said. “I want to be a part of winning another one, so obviously there’s expectation every year and you put that pressure because that’s what you expect.”