Male Athlete of the Year: Breakout Year
For most multisport athletes, it’s the touchdown, the hard-fought layup or the sharply hit double that drives their competitive streak.
For Jake Malcom, it’s the well hit golf shot.
“It’s a mental game,” said the Fremont-Mills graduate. “You can’t just have a mindset where every shot has to be your best shot. It’s one hole at a time.”
Malcom has no doubt the mental toughness, concentration and focus that made him an eight handicap and a part of two Knights state golf qualifying teams has carried over into the other the sports he excelled at his senior season.
“You have to believe you can do it before you can actually do it,” he said. “You try and be your best every single play and shot and throw.”
Malcom, who had a hand in 26 touchdowns on the gridiron, scored 19.5 points per game on the hardwood, qualified for the state track meet in the high jump and was the Knights’ starting shortstop, was at his best a lot this season.
Enough that it has earned him The Opinion-Tribune’s 2021-2022 Male Athlete of the Year.
Malcom has no qualms calling golf his favorite, even his best, sport. The game is his first love.
“I’ve played it my whole life,” he said. “It’s just something I really love.”
He’s been on the links for as long as he can remember. His grandpa, who bought him his first set of clubs, was an avid golfer and introduced he and his brothers to the game young.
“I was the only one (of my brothers) that ended up liking it so stayed with it,” he said.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have a similar fondness football and basketball and baseball and track, the other sports he starred in his Knight career.
“I loved all the sports I did,” he said. “It was kind of a I loved the sport I was in during that season.”
He counts making it to the state golf tournament this spring among his most precious of senior year memories. The Knights reached state a year ago but lost their top player and weren’t pegged as favorites to return. Malcom and his teammates proved the naysayers wrong with back-to-back trips.
“Most people didn’t think we were capable of doing it and I knew we could,” Malcom said. “We worked a lot in the off-season, and it really paid off.”
It likely came as a surprise to no one Malcom applied for and was accepted into the University of Nebraska’s PGA Golf Management Program for this fall. The prestigious program allows graduates to attain PGA membership while preparing for careers in country club professional, golf company sales and tournament management. Enrollees must apply, maintain a certified 12-or-better handicap and receive written confirmation from the program’s director. It’s equal parts business, turf management and golf, Malcom said.
“The goal is to learn the game from that side and get to know people and run a golf course,” he said.
Golf wasn’t the only spring sports Malcom excelled at. In addition to reaching state in golf he qualified for the state track meet in the high jump, eventually placing fifth. He is believed to be the first Knight athlete to accomplish the state twofer in the same season.
Malcom actually entered the spring determined to focus on golf but was talked into joining the track team by Coach D.J. Erkenbeck.
“He said, ‘You’ve high jumped in the past and you did good, and I think if you really try you can make it to state in two sports.’ It was a pretty cool feeling competing with other guys at that level that are really good.”
It also irks Malcom he didn’t place higher. Competitiveness is a hard switch to turn off. Not getting over the hump in two trips to the UNI Dome as the Knights’ starting quarterback still eats at him, two years later.
“It will always stick with me,” he said. “But I couldn’t ask for better coaches or better friends to grow up playing football within this community. It’s been a great time.”
Malcom’s senior year was also a breakout one on the hardwood. But really that successful season was a breakout delayed, notably by a wrist injury that limited him to a handful of games his junior year. It also didn’t hurt he grew five inches between his junior and senior seasons.
“It was frustrating with the injury but heading into my senior year coach (Steve Raymond) said I was the lone senior and I needed to step up and make plays,” he said. “I feel like that’s what I did.”
And then some. Malcom led the team in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and had career-high 35-point night against Essex in the postseason.
The now 6-foot-4 Malcom felt like the success both surprised him and reassured him the hard work paid off.
“I knew I was capable of it, but I was always kind of a small guy until I started growing,” he said. “I knew coming into my senior season I had a height advantage. Coach put me down low as much as possible and used my athleticism to get over guys.”
Former Knights head boys’ basketball coach Steve Raymond, who coached Malcom for four years and served as the Knights’ quarterback coach, said watching Malcom develop has been an experience he feels blessed to have been a part of. He also feels like he made him a better coach.
“Watching Jake develop and put in the hard work he has, has been a great experience and one I’ll never forget,” Raymond said. “Jake has had a blind loyalty and trust in our coaching staff that always made him extremely coachable.
Whatever we would ask him to do, he’d try to execute it as best as he could. I think this attribute of Jake’s made him a natural leader and helped him build great relationships with his peers.”
Malcom had interest from college coaches in basketball and considered going that route in college. He had similar options in football and golf. But in the end, he decided to forgo competitive sports for the first time in his life with an eye towards a career in his first love.
“I had a couple coaches reaches out,” he said. “But the moment I committed to being a part of the PGA turf management program, I stuck with it. I really enjoy golf and that side of the sport.”