HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Malakai Brown produced some dizzying offensive numbers as a wide receiver at Hedgesville during his sophomore season, some of them the result of turning teams in circles.
Take for instance, one of two 80-plus yard touchdown receptions he made in a win over Hampshire.
Brown caught a bubble screen on the right side. Looking over the defense, Brown determined there was no way he was going to manage much positive yardage, so he curled back behind his quarterback and headed left, all the way to the sideline. He turned up field and began his run toward the end zone, leaving all 11 defenders in his wake on an 82-yard touchdown play.
“When I get the ball,” Brown said, “I try to make moves and go as far as I can without stopping.”
His opponent that night might still be chasing him.
The Trojans certainly had a difficult time stopping Brown, who caught four touchdown passes in that game and five passes in all for 245 yards.
On an earlier 81-yard touchdown pass reception, Brown ran a skinny post, caught a short pass and outran the defense, demonstrating speed that he is working to improve.
“His best ability is to make people miss,” Hedgesville coach Joey Yurish said. “He’s very elusive with the ball in his hands. He’s a very aggressive runner.”
And, as a pass-catcher, he’s the winner of the Randy Moss Award as the top wide receiver in West Virginia high school football, as awarded by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Brown caught 81 passes for 1,393 yards and 12 touchdowns, putting him among the leaders nationally and ranking him very high among the top sophomores in the country.
It was enough to garner Brown an invitation to an All-American bowl later this month, though state rules preclude him from participating as an underclassmen.
“I nominated him for combines they have over the summer … basically trying to get his name out there,” Yurish said. “Then I got an email inviting him. They looked at his stats and his film.”
The scouts saw a receiver capable of catching passes in all sorts of ways.
“He went up for the ball, made circus catches,” Yurish said. “He turned 1-yard gains into 80-yarders.
“He’s got the a work ethic. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Brown doesn’t play anything but football.
In Yurish’s eyes, that’s safe for would-be opponents in any sport.
“He’s a helluva athlete,” Yurish said. “He was a national champion wrestler as a kid. He can make the wrestling team better; he can make the basketball team better; he could make the track team better; and he could probably play baseball and make that team better.
“That’s the type of kid he is.”
Brown played varsity football as a freshman, but his receiving numbers were nominal.
He had a breakout season in 2017, something Yurish anticipated.
“He’s the type of kid we knew we had to get the ball to at least 15 times a game, and then he’d make plays,” Yurish said. “He had a niche for the ball. He has that thing you can’t coach. He will be a great player.”
Brown already is making future goals.
“Hopefully, to get more receptions and yards than I got this season,” he said.
Pressed further, he indicated he’d like to reach 1,500 yards receiving and score 20 touchdowns while still catching passes in the 80s.
Yurish thinks he could generate 1,700 yards as a junior and possibly hit 2,000 as a senior.
That will take some work.
Brown is up to it, though.
He’s taking private lessons with a trainer aimed at improving his speed. He wants to be around 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash by next season.
Brown indicated his lateral movement is probably his biggest attribute.
“If you don’t have that, there’s not much to do in the open field,” he said.
It allowed him to reverse his field in one game, spinning defenders around in circles in what certainly is a highlight-reel catch-and-run.
— By Rick Kozlowski, The Journal, for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association