It’s a question Malachi Stout never wanted to have running through his head.
Sure, he could go play at a FCS (Division I-AA), Division II or NAIA school and get immediate playing time – and stats – but what if he tried playing at a FBS (Division I-A) program?
What if, after redshirting, fighting through scout team reps, and latching on to a special teams role, he finally made the field on offense and saw game action?
It’s a question Stout hopes to answer within the next five years. The Kickapoo High School star running back will walk-on at Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Ark. this fall.
“The biggest factor in that decision was my faith,” Stout said. “I felt like I put the work in and I felt like I had the abilities, but more importantly than that, I have faith in God and what He can do.
“I felt like if I went to a Division II program I would be selling myself short, because I feel like with the work I’ve put in and the abilities I’ve been given that I can play at the highest level.”
Stout heads to Jonesboro after leading Kickapoo to the winningest season ever by any Springfield Public Schools football team.
A season to remember
Kickapoo went 9-0 to win the Ozark Conference title outright, but the road was about to get much tougher. While Kickapoo was the top seed and host for its district tournament, the Chiefs faced a “prove it” scenario on the Class 6 stage.
Victories over Lee’s Summit, Lee’s Summit West and Blue Springs not only showed the Chiefs belonged, but provided a statement for Southwest Missouri football as a whole, Stout said.
“That’s been a knock on our area for the longest time, and it still is,” Stout said. “Especially with recruiting and stuff, they just don’t think we can play football around here. I hope that chip on our shoulder and that attitude remains, not just at Kickapoo but just in the area. We can play football down here and people are going to start realizing that.”
Stout was a buzzsaw out of the backfield all season. In his first year as a full-time starter, he had 1,474 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns on 250 carries, including eight 100-yard games.
Also a receiving threat, he caught 21 passes for 379 yards and seven touchdowns. Stout added punt and kickoff return for touchdowns to cap a Class 6 first-team all-state season.
The Chiefs fell in the Class 6 semifinal round, 35-14, to Christian Brothers College. Kickapoo and CBC were tied, 14-14, at halftime.
Stout conceded that the Cadets were the better team overall, but…
“The thing that gets me the most is the fact that we got within (CBC’s) 20-yardline three times in the second half and we came away with no points each time,” Stout said. “That’s one you’d obviously like to have back, but I felt like I left everything on the field that game. That’s all you can do. I try not to dwell on it, but that’s definitely the game you’d like to go back and play over.”
Student of the game
When it comes to football, Stout is an old soul of sorts.
He studies film and easily names off some of the game’s legends, many of whom played decades before he was born. Names like (Gayle) Sayers, (Walter) Payton, (Barry) Sanders, (Emmitt) Smith.
In today’s league, Stout admires the patience of a guy like Le’Veon Bell, the 6’1”, 245-pound running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“When it comes to emulating people, I know I’m not them, but I try to take the greatest aspects of them and use that within my capabilities,” Stout said. “When it comes to running, my motto is efficiency: waste as little movement as possible.
“When you watch Gayle, he’s not a guy that would stand and shake and make a move here, and make a move there. He’d make one move and go. He might cut again, but he’s not going to waste any movement making that cut.”
Stout incorporates some old-school training methods into his current regimen. With a current workout plan that focuses on improving his speed, agility, flexibility and vertical, Stout also goes on regular hill runs at Wanda Grey Elementary in Southwest Springfield.
“Walter Peyton and Jerry Rice were famous for running hills,” Stout said. “If you watch Walter’s tape, he’s not a 4.3 (40-yard dash) type of guy, but the way he explodes through tacklers, you can only help but think the hills he ran were a benefit. That resistance you’re getting while you’re pushing up and driving through, it transfers to the game when you’re breaking through tackles.”
From Chief to Red Wolf to…
At Arkansas State, Stout joins a program that finished 9-4 overall and received an invite to the New Orleans Bowl in 2015. A member of the Sun Belt Conference, the Red Wolves’ roster includes Webb City’s Dalton Ford and 2013 Hillcrest graduate and former 1 Awards nominee Jonah Hill.
Stout laid out his ideal career path at Arkansas State: redshirt and earn Scout Team Player of the Year as a freshman, get on special teams as a redshirt freshman, be a 3rd-down running back/”clean-up” specialist as a redshirt sophomore, then play a “significant role” in some capacity for his final two seasons.
Arkansas State’s offense has similar principles and schemes to that of Kickapoo’s.
“It allows me to utilize my versatility and catch passes out of the backfield or go in the slot a little bit,” Stout said. “I plan to do, more or less, the same thing I’ve done in high school but probably not as a 20-carry a game guy at that level.”
Stout had multiple offers from Division II GLVC schools – such as Quincy and Southwest Baptist University – and a handful of NAIA offers. His only full-ride offer was to SBU, but Stout yearned for a chance to play at college football’s highest level.
“I told myself, ‘If I’m going to be paying to go to school, I’m going to be doing it at the highest level,” Stout said. “I didn’t want to look back and be like, ‘I think I could have played at the (FBS) level.’ If I go there and find out I don’t have the sauce and can’t compete at that level, I can always come back to play at a Division II or smaller program. But I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with myself to back down from that challenge.”
Once Stout’s career is over, he hopes to one day mold the next Kickapoo or NFL star, with a faith-based emphasis. Stout will major in exercise science at ASU.
“I’d like to become a strength-and-conditioning type of coach, but have it be personal and faith-based,” Stout said. “Have a place where you can come in and work out, but do it without all the vulgarity and explicitness that’s around today. I wanted to strengthen kids not only physically and enhance their abilities, but also (strengthen) them spiritually as well.”