MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even though he committed to Pitt, Morgantown High’s Nick Malone knew deep down he wanted to stay home.

The 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive lineman chose the Panthers last August when they represented his lone Division-I offer. Even as one of West Virginia’s biggest rivals, the lure of playing for a Power Five school was too much to pass up. The former WVU coaching staff also never showed the interest Malone hoped it would.

But a snowball of circumstances over the last four months changed everything. Dana Holgorsen left West Virginia to become th coach at Houston in early January. A month later Pitt told Malone, a Rivals.com three-star, that it didn’t have room in the 2019 class, essentially yanking his offer.

From that point, Malone had many conversations with the new WVU staff, including head coach Neal Brown and offensive line coach Matt Moore. On Wednesday, Malone signed as a preferred walk-on with the Mountaineers, a happy ending to a hectic year.

“This is home, for me, literally. It’s only five minutes away,” Malone said. “Playing in front of my friends, family and everybody is just surreal.”

Malone attended a Pitt camp in June, when coach Pat Narduzzi extended a scholarship offer with the promise of turning him into an “elite offensive lineman.”

After Malone committed in August, the communication between Pitt’s staff started to dwindle. No coach made an in-home visit during the fall, and after the college season, Panthers’ offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was replaced by Mark Whipple.

“It was disappointing, but that’s when I found a true home, which is here at West Virginia,” he said.

Malone found that home under Brown after the previous coaching staff under Holgorsen didn’t reach out like Malone hoped they would. Malone recalls talking to Holgorsen about one time while he was at the helm.

When Brown took over, there was a noticeable difference to Malone in how he handled in-state walk-ons and felt more welcomed that he ever had before.

“Coach Brown is definitely outgoing and knows what he’s talking about,” Malone said. “Coach Moore definitely knows what he’s talking about and knows the fundamentals — they’re just overall a lot better than the old coaching staff.”

Despite offers from Robert Morris and Eastern Kentucky, Malone wanted to prove he could play at the top level. With the success many in-state walk-ons have had at WVU, including former Mohigans Shea Campbell and Shane Commodore.

“With the walk-on program, it’s been pretty successful, so if you’re able to play, you can play,” Malone said. “You just have to go out and do the work.”

Malone’s goal when he gets on campus is to hit the weight room and become strong enough to play tackle at a Power Five school. He looks forward to working against West Virginia’s experienced defensive linemen.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are; what matters is how good you are,” Malone said.

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