MACON — Unflappable is a great way to describe Maliek Stallings.
The Noxubee County High School junior plays football with a swagger. He talks. He celebrates. He is loud. It’s part of what helps makes him one of the Tigers’ most dangerous players.
As a sophomore, Stallings was called on to lead the Noxubee County
offense. Stallings showed signs of growing into a quarterback, as he threw for 2,442 yards and 22 touchdowns (12 interceptions) last season in a nine-win campaign that ended with a loss to Pontotoc in the third round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A playoffs.
This season, Stallings figured to back in a similar role. With senior Armoni Clark, coach Tyrone Shorter had the luxury of having two talented and experienced playmakers who could run his offense.
But Shorter had a feeling.
The more Shorter thought about it, he believed Clark was a better fit to be quarterback this season, so he opted to give the job to Clark. Shorter didn’t know it at the time, but the move helped strengthen two areas at once.
As a result of Clark moving to quarterback full time, Shorter shifted Stallings to cornerback and to wide receiver. His presence on offense gives the Tigers at least three skilled athletes (with Kyziah Pruitt and Rashad Eades) who can break a game open. On defense, Stallings’ speed, height (6-foot-1), and quickness help him shut things down against opponents’ top receivers.
“It feels like second nature to me,” Stallings said of playing cornerback. “It feels like I have been here before. It feels just like home.”
Stallings’ work will be on display at 7 p.m. Friday when No. 1 seed Noxubee County (9-4) plays host to No. 2 seed Louisville (12-2) in the Class 4A North State title game at Tiger Stadium.
The winner of that game will advance to face the winner of the game between East Central and Poplarville at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.
Stallings said he played cornerback or safety when he played pee wee football. In fact, he used to play everything, as he also played quarterback and running back. The versatility speaks to Stallings athleticism, which is part of the reason why Shorter wanted to make the change. Stallings said the move to two new positions wasn’t hard.
“Everybody always tells me I am the best athlete on the team,” Stallings said. “We needed me there, so that is where I went.”
Stallings saw significant snaps at quarterback in the first three games of the season. He attempted two passes in a loss to Meridian and five in a loss to West Point before Shorter made the move.
Since then, Stallings has helped solidify the secondary. He usually matches up with the other team’s best receiver. He has six pass deflections. On offense, he has 20 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Stallings said Shorter liked his footwork and size at cornerback to help shore up that area. He said he always has wanted to “experiment” with new things and that it was “always a dream” to play defense. He said he patterns his defensive game off former NFL great and Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
“I think I am the best cornerback on this team,” Stallings said. “I think I am one of the best cornerbacks in the state.”
Shorter said last season Stallings is “a little bit more cocky” than Timorrius Conner, his cousin, who used to play quarterback for Noxubee County. He said a year ago that Stallings wanted to shoulder the role of playing quarterback because he welcomes challenges.
“He talks about winning three state championships as a starter. That is the type of thing,” Shorter said.
Stallings will have that opportunity as a starter at a different position. That’s OK with him. He just wanted to do what he can to help the Tigers go. If that means his role is to stop the other team instead of pushing the Tigers’ offense, that’s fine. Just show him where to line up and shut down the other team.
“Pound for pound, (Stallings) is probably the best athlete on this football team,” Shorter said in October. “The kid can do so much. He has a long frame, long arms. I am seeing him do some things at defensive back that are making me go, ‘Wow.’ This guy has a lot of raw talent.”
Stallings’ goal is to refine those skills so he can better resemble Sanders. He said it also feels like “home” for him at wide receiver.
“I love when the best go against the best,” Stallings said. “You never know if you’re good if you don’t.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.