Malecki, Lyco visit Lebanon Valley

Buried on the depth chart, there wasn’t going to be much of an opportunity for Matt Malecki to get on the field as a wide receiver. It’s not that he didn’t have the athleticism or overall ability to play the position. He was just stuck behind talented receivers.

Then an opportunity opened up for the Lycoming sophomore to play defensive back and he saw a chance to get on the field. Two-year starter Kody Flail was struggling with the knee injury which cost him the final few games of the 2012 season and the Warriors were having depth issues in the defensive secondary.

Only a few weeks after making the switch, Malecki was starting at cornerback against Brockport State in the season opener. It was a bit of a rough start that opening week, but Malecki has grown into the position. In the last two weeks as Lycoming has beaten back-to-back opponents ranked in the Top 25, Malecki has been at his best.

“It’s been a challenge,” Malecki said earlier this week. “At first it was definitely new, a lot faster. But I picked it up pretty quick, I thought.”

It’s not that Malecki was completely foreign to the position. He played some cornerback at Kent Island High School in Maryland. Of course, he also played defensive end for the small school depending on formations they faced.

So Malecki is used to the physical nature of football. His physicality showed through even during his work as a wide receiver. It was part of the reason he was a natural fit to try and make the transition to cornerback.

His 21 tackles are sixth-best for a defense that is ranked third in the Middle Atlantic Conference in total defense.

“One of coach Wiser’s biggest beliefs is being physical and disrupting routes,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “If you play defense for us, you’re going to be physical. That’s a rule of coach Wiser’s and I’m glad it is.”

“I definitely like to be physical,” Malecki said. “I want to be up on the line jamming receivers. That’s where I like to be.”

It was a bit of a rough start for Malecki as he got his feet wet against Brockport. Although he didn’t give up much in the pass game, he was beaten deep on a handful of plays the Golden Eagles just missed on.

Malecki has been exponentially better since that Week 1 game. The best compliment to give a defensive back is that he’s tough to notice on the field. He’s excelled in man-to-man coverage, not letting receivers get behind him the way they did in that Week 1 game.

“That’s the easy part, just running alongside someone,” Malecki said. “I think I’m pretty athletic and I feel like I can keep up with most people.”

“Experience is a great teacher. Fortunately he learned quickly,” Clark said. “(Brockport) tested him. He’s come a long way. People attacked him early and people continue to throw at him. But it’s the nature of the position. I think he’s grown a ton in the last four weeks and he continues to improve. He works hard at it, and it’s important to him that he’s good.”

Malecki may not have even made the move over if it wasn’t for Flail battling his recovery from a torn ACL he suffered against Widener last year. Flail, a junior, was a two-year starter at cornerback who was expected to continue to fill that role this year.

But as he went through preseason camp and the Warriors’ scrimmages, his knee hasn’t reacted the way he had hoped. Flail has yet to play a snap this year, but there is still a chance he could eventually see some time.

Malecki said he spends quite a bit of time talking to fellow starting corner Ryan Mihoci about various responsibilities that come with the position. Mihoci, a junior, has been the team’s nickleback for the past two years, but stepped into a starting role in the final three games a year ago after Flail’s injury.

“I felt a lot of pressure because Kody is a really good player,” Malecki said. “But I knew I had to fill the position. I don’t feel too much pressure now, though, because I believe in myself and I believe I can do it.”

“We’re one of the best defenses in the conference and Matt is a big part of that,” Clark said. “I would say he’s taken to the position very well.”