MCGILL: Former Walk-on Malik Gant Grasps Opposition, Opportunity|
Sept. 14, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall’s leading tackler through two games couldn’t generate recruiting interest out of Washington D.C.’s Woodson High School. He arrived here in hopes of receiving an affordable education and an opportunity to flourish on the football field.
Malik Gant has both within his grasp now. And, as he showed against North Carolina State, he isn’t one to let something get away easily.
“I wasn’t surprised because every day we watch him make every tackle,” said Chris Jackson, a sophomore cornerback for the Herd. “He’s very physical. I knew he wasn’t going to shy away from competition because that’s not the type of person he is. It’s called competitive excellence.
“That’s kind of been his M.O. since I met him – when he gets an opportunity, he takes advantage of it.”
Gant enters Saturday’s non-conference home game against Kent State with a team-best 21 tackles through two games. He’ll surely add to his total when the Thundering Herd (1-1, 0-0 C-USA) and Golden Flashes (1-1, 0-0 MAC) kick off at 6:30 p.m.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound safety started the season as the backup at both safety positions. He was thrust into his first career start because of a two-quarter penalty C.J. Reavis had to serve after a targeting call against Miami on Sept. 2. Gant made the most of his time on the field, recording a team-high 17 tackles. He flew around the field on defense and special teams, making eight tackles in the first 18 minutes of the game.
Gant had six tackles in 12 appearances as a redshirt freshman last season, but his single-game high in tackles was two. He had four in this year’s season opener.
“Whatever opportunity I got on the field, I was going to make the most of it,” Gant said.
He wasn’t perfect. The redshirt sophomore lost track of one of North Carolina State’s most dangerous offensive weapons – tight end Jaylen Samuels – on a trick play in the second quarter last Saturday. Samuels was left all alone on the right sideline, caught a pass from quarterback Ryan Finley and raced an easy 39 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.
Gant didn’t hesitate to point out his own flaws after his first career start.
“The speed of the game, it was my first experience with it, but coming into the next game I will be used to it,” Gant said. “The trick play, I wasn’t disciplined with my eyes.”
Gant was a walk-on in 2015 and played mostly on special teams last season. In the spring, MU coach Doc Holliday said “if there is an MVP in the spring, it may be” Gant. Holliday then rewarded Gant with a scholarship following spring drills.
That was Gant’s objective when he selected Marshall. He was offered a chance here by former assistant coach Sean Cronin, and as a D.C. resident Gant knew he would receive in-state tuition no matter where his heart guided him. He never considered a lower level of competition; he wanted to be challenged academically and athletically, and he prove he belongs at the highest level.
Now Gant is spearheading a youthful unit. When there are five defensive backs on the field, Gant is often joined by sophomores Jackson and Jaylon McClain-Sapp and freshmen Brandon Drayton and Jestin Morrow.
“We can be really great,” Gant said. “We can be a great unit because we are very young and we can grow together. That chemistry is going to be great. We’re all growing up. We’re teaching each other as we are all growing up. Everybody is on the same level of experience so we are learning at the same pace.”
Gant turned 20 years old in May. Jackson, who is a veteran in the group with 14 career starts, will be 19 for another six months. McClain-Sapp turned 20 this summer and Morrow’s 20th birthday was Thursday. Drayton is the oldest of the quintet and will turn 21 in February.
Three sophomores and two freshmen in the same secondary would seem to warrant a nickname, but they’re still searching for the perfect moniker.
“We’re working on it,” Jackson said. “We are all aware of how young we are, but that means we get to grow up together.”