Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series that will feature some of the area’s top prep football players. These players are expected to receive the most attention from college coaches/scouts. The Dispatch will profile a player each day leading up to the start of the regular season on Friday, Aug. 17.
MACON — Acceptance is the first step to effective action.
Maliek Stallings always has been blessed with the athleticism to play multiple positions. Growing up, he showcased that versatility by playing wide receiver and defensive back. As he progressed to high school, Stallings moved onto a path that positioned him to be a leader at quarterback for the Noxubee County High School football team.
Coach Tyrone Shorter saw a different route for Stallings, though, one that would help him contribute in twice as much and fortify the Tigers in multiple areas. Still, Shorter admitted wrestling with the decision to go with Armoni Clark at quarterback and switching Stallings to wide receiver and cornerback. He realized the decision could have a negative impact on Stallings’ confidence.
Shorter also wanted Stallings to accept the change and realize he was making the choice to make the team better.
“At first, he didn’t see it,” Shorter said. “I told him, ‘Son, if you want to be a Division I player, you’re going to turn a lot of heads at receiver and defensive back. Not that he wouldn’t turn heads at quarterback, but if he is going to get to the next level he is going to do it at receiver and DB. Once he bought into it and we moved him to receiver and defensive back the Division I offers started coming. Now he loves it.”
Stallings said it didn’t take that long for him to adjust back to playing two positions he routinely played growing up. In fact, he said he “always loved playing defense” when he was younger and was excited to get a chance to impact the game on two sides of the football.
“I just like the ball in my hands,” Stallings said. “It was real easy. Every time we played seven-on-seven I didn’t play quarterback. I played receiver or corner.”
Stallings had two catches for 19 yards and a touchdown in a 41-35 victory against East Central in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State championship game on Dec. 2, 2017, at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Stallings also had two kickoff returns for 79 yards, which included a long of 59 yards. He also had five solo tackles, including one for loss, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. Stallings also punted once for 38 yards.
The 6-foot-1, 173-pounder closes in on his senior year fresh off a verbal commitment Friday to attend Memphis. He chose Memphis over offers from Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana Lafayette, Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State, and other Division I schools and junior colleges.
Last season, Stallings threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns (seven interceptions) before moving full time to wide receiver and cornerback. He had 23 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Stallings added 16 solo tackles (20 total) and had 12 pass deflections.
Stallings said he felt he did “OK” last season and that he believes he should be way better this season because he worked hard in the offseason to grow from the eight-game showing at both positions in 2017. He said he wants to improve on his open-field tackling on defense and being an explosive option on offense. With weapons like Kyziah Pruitt and Ja’Qualyn Smith, quarterback Khristopher White should have plenty of opportunities to find his teammates to make big plays. Stallings said he wants to be a big part of that mix.
“I want to make more people miss and get into the end zone,” Stallings said.
Shorter is looking for Stallings to be a leader in the secondary with Keymarcus Jackson. He also feels Stallings will make it doubly difficult for defenses to be on guard for all of the weapons Noxubee County has on offense. He is confident Stallings will be able to make an impact if he is all in about being the best wide receiver and defensive back that he can be.
“We know we can use him at receiver and defensive back, and, if push comes to shove, we can put him back at quarterback,” Shorter said. “Pound for pound he is the most talented player on the football team because he can do so many things. I think he is much more mature now, and I am expecting a big year for him. We saw that at the end of the (2017) season and in the state championship when he was a three-way play and made some things happen on special teams.”
Noxubee County will open its season Aug. 17 at Starkville.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.