Jack Mallis listened to the cadence of his quarterback, got his legs moving and took the handoff.
Suddenly he was in the end zone for the first touchdown of his college football career.
Mallis didn’t need to look at the scoreboard. His 7-yard run was the last of seven touchdowns scored that day by Southern Connecticut State over winless Pace University. With less than six minutes left in a 47-26 blowout on the Pace field, few in the announced crowd of about 800 were still watching.
Instead of glory, Mallis felt something very different.
Remember Jack Mallis? Three years ago he led Windham High to its first state football championship. He scored four touchdowns on the turf of Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. The crowd was maybe 10 times the number of fans who watched Southern Connecticut beat Pace six weeks ago.
Bangor’s defense, unbeaten to that point in 2009, couldn’t contain Mallis. Windham, in only its seventh varsity season, won 35-21. Three months later, Mallis was handed the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy and hailed as the best senior high school football player in Maine.
“That all seems a long time ago,” said Mallis. “It’s almost like it didn’t happen.”
Much in life almost doesn’t happen. A college career, for instance.
Mallis is a junior communications major academically and a redshirt sophomore running back in a Division II football school that enjoyed 18 straight winning seasons until this year.
After attending practice but not playing his freshman season, he was buried on the depth chart in 2011. He played on special teams, blocking for other runners on kickoff and punt returns, and going after the ballcarrier on kickoff and punt coverage.
He had the same role this season, a testing one for everyone. Injuries and suspensions led to a 3-8 record. The win over Pace on Oct. 6 was followed by four straight losses until a 13-10 victory over Stonehill ended the season last Saturday.
Coach Rich Cavanaugh went to his bench in the second half of the Pace game. Mallis got six carries for 47 yards. And that first touchdown.
“It was bittersweet,” said Mallis. “I worked hard just to get onto the field and play, but scoring that touchdown didn’t feel like I thought it would.”
He scored 51 times in his career at Windham, including 26 in 2009. Sure, it felt good to hear his teammates and neighbors cheer then. More importantly, he felt he was contributing. He was one of Windham’s top breadwinners, so to speak. His touchdowns helped the cause.
Scoring that day at Pace helped nothing. The game had been won. Who cared?
“Jack did an outstanding job for us,” said Cavanaugh, speaking of the game and the season. “He always takes advantage of his opportunities. He understands the big picture. He’s always working.”
Vaughn Magee, a junior from New York, was the star running back with the rushing totals to back up the reputation. He was also a disappointment away from the field. Cavanaugh suspended him for two games after the Pace win for breaking training rules.
Magee stood on the sideline while Mallis got the start against American International College (34-7 loss) and Assumption (44-0 loss).
The game against AIC was Southern Connecticut’s homecoming. Mallis led the team with 98 all-purpose yards. The next week, nothing succeeded.
Magee was back Oct. 27 and ran for 139 yards against cross-town rival University of New Haven in another defeat.
Mallis went back to special teams.
“I wish the year had gone better. With the suspensions and everything, the team was disconnected. I’m not sorry to see the season end. It gives us a chance to start from scratch next year.”
Mallis has more than football going for him. His 3.60 grade-point average was tops on a team of 85 players. He’s maintained that for two years. This fall he turned heads when he showed up at a reception for scholar-athletes looking like he stepped off the pages of GQ magazine.
“Some people thought I was a professor,” said Mallis, laughing.
“Hey, if I’m going to dress up, I’m going to dress up. I wore my best suit.”
He can get used to the mistaken identity role. He walked into the campus field house the other day and saw a youngster staring at his long blonde hair, strong jaw, wide neck and muscled frame.
“He thought I was (Green Bay Packers linebacker) Clay Matthews,” said Mallis, laughing again. Never mind that Mallis is 6 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter.
He is no longer the kid who showed up on campus in the late summer of 2009 searching for self-confidence and wondering if he’d fit. More than a few Maine high school athletes have a tendency to not believe in themselves.
Yes, Mallis was the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner who let the air out of a Windham school bus’ tires. It was an end-of-school prank. The adults in his life were not amused. He made the wrong choice that day.
He’s made a lot of right choices since. He will persevere.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: