The first time Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson recruited Tywone Malone, it was with the understanding that baseball would be part of the plan as well.
Malone was a 4-star defensive tackle in the 2021 class out of Bergen Catholic in Oradell, New Jersey. The Buckeyes were one of the many schools that believed they had a shot to land the talented tackle. Ohio State was also one of the many schools that was okay with Malone playing baseball while he played football.
Ultimately, Malone made a baseball decision as much as a football decision by choosing Ole Miss. That decision led to a national championship in baseball as a true freshman.
Living in two worlds can be difficult, and thriving in them is almost impossible. Malone played in just 13 games in his two seasons as a designated hitter and first basemen. He did hit three home runs in his 19 career at bats, however.
On the football side, Malone played in one game as a true freshman, then saw action in every game last year off the bench as a redshirt freshman. He tallied 10 tackles and a sack last year.
After two years in each sport with mixed results, it became clear that it was time to make a choice. That choice also led Malone to the transfer portal.
Once he hit the portal after spring football, many of those previous suitors came calling again. But this time the focus was only going to be on football, and Malone chose Ohio State to help him make the most of that focus.
What does Larry Johnson see from Malone this year for the Buckeyes?
“I hope he can bring some depth to us,” Johnson said last week. “I liked him in high school. I saw him in high school, recruited him out of high school. We thought we had a shot at him, but he wanted to play baseball and do both. But I think it’s gonna bring depth to us. I like where he’s at right now. His weight is down. He lost a lot of weight playing baseball. He’s right around 300. He looks good. We’ll see when we get him in pads and how it goes from there, but happy to have him.”
This is not the first time Johnson has come back around on a recruit that he missed out on. A few years back, the Buckeyes lost the recruiting battle for tackle Antwuan Jackson. Jackson ended up at Auburn and then transferred to junior college as a redshirt freshman. After one season at Blinn Junior College, the Buckeyes came calling again and Jackson listened.
And just as it was back then, some serious conversations needed to take place. Malone had already told Ohio State “no” once before, after all. No grudges were held, but Johnson definitely needed to understand Malone’s mindset and what he was looking for this time around.
“First of all, he wanted to make a change,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest thing. Do you really want to make a change, and why are you making the change? And we had some really good conversations with him. His mom and his dad were very involved in the whole process. And then we got him on campus, and I had two, three, four hours to spend with him, which was kind of fun. Just what he was as a person, not about football. You can look at him and figure out where he is in football. What he can do, what he brings, does it fit our culture, and all those things are important to us. And at the end of the day, when we finished, I kind of liked what he said and the way he wants to do it and the new start for him. He said it himself, it was a fresh start, him getting away from baseball and really concentrating on football.”
Johnson sees Malone as more of a three-technique defensive tackle than a nose tackle in Ohio State’s defense. He likes his ability to rush the passer and his quickness, but there will still be an adjustment to OSU’s system. Malone went through three different defensive schemes at Ole Miss, “so he got a lot of everything,” according to Johnson.
Now, however, he’s going to be at one spot in one scheme playing one sport. It’s the kind of unity that can also lead to clarity. Johnson obviously has high hopes now that this is going to be the first time Tywone Malone has ever been this concentrated on football.
“He never had his foot fully in football,” Johnson said. “I think this is the first time that he’s just going to play football and concentrate on football. And so I think we’ll see a different athlete. I think he didn’t do spring ball his first year there, he played baseball. So that had a lot to do with his development and where he’s at right now. Certainly, he’s got a great upside to where he’s gonna go.”