Larry Johnson got his first crack at Tywone Malone well over two years ago.
But due in part to the four-star defensive tackle prospect’s desire to play two sports at the college level, Ohio State lost out on Malone. The 63rd overall recruit in the 2021 class signed with Ole Miss, where he was given the opportunity to play both football and baseball.
Things didn’t necessarily go according to plan, though. At least, not if Malone expected to be a star in either sport in his first two seasons. Malone logged just 97 snaps on the gridiron in 2022, finishing the season with 10 total tackles, one tackle for loss and a sack. On the diamond, the second-year designated hitter only took 10 at-bats in six appearances for the Rebel baseball team.
"This is the first time that he's just going to play football and concentrate on football. And so I think we'll see a different athlete."– Larry Johnson on Tywone Malone
After that, Malone was ready for a fresh coat of paint. He entered the transfer portal on April 19, and seeking another depth piece to bolster his defensive tackle group, Johnson took another swing. This time, it worked out. Malone committed to Ohio State on May 9, and he won’t be splitting his focus between sports at his next stop.
“First of all, he wanted to make a change. That's the biggest thing. Do you really want to make a change, and why are you making the change,” said Johnson when publicly discussing the addition of Malone for the first time at an interview session last week. “And we had some really good conversations with him, his mom and his dad was very involved in the whole process. And then we got him on campus and I had two, three, four hours to spend with him, just kind of fun. Just what he was as a person, not about football. You can look at him and figure out where he is in football. What he can do, what he brings, does it fit our culture, and all those things are important to us.
“And at the end of the day, when we finished, I kind of liked what he said and the way he wants to do it and the new start for him. He said it himself, it was a fresh start. And now I'm getting away from baseball and really concentrating on football.”
Malone isn’t coming to Ohio State as a finished product. Given his numbers through his first two years of college football, it’s safe to say he hasn’t yet scratched the potential that made him an elite recruit out of Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey.
Johnson thinks Malone’s ambitions as a dual-sport athlete might have held him back. Instead of spending his first spring at Ole Miss on the football field, he jumped straight into the baseball season. But now it appears Malone knows full well that taking his game to the next level means putting everything into football alone.
And Johnson thinks that will pay dividends in short order.
“I think you don't know (where he’s at) because he played baseball. So he never had his foot fully in football,” Johnson said. “I think this is the first time that he's just going to play football and concentrate on football. And so I think we'll see a different athlete. I think he didn't do spring ball his first year there, he played baseball. So that had a lot to his development and where he's at right now. Certainly, he's got a great upside to where he's gonna go.”
Beyond just transitioning to a new school and entering a new locker room in Columbus, Malone also faces the challenge of acclimating to a defensive scheme that doesn't resemble the one he learned at Ole Miss. The Rebels replaced one of two co-defensive coordinators in both of Malone’s first two seasons and changed leadership at the position again in January.
While Malone is used to a three-man front on the defensive line, he’ll have to adjust to a four-man alignment at Ohio State, where Johnson envisions him starting out as a three-technique tackle.
“Their scheme's a little different. … He went through three different schemes while he was there, so he got a lot of everything,” Johnson said. “So I think for us, I'd like to see if he can play three-technique. I think he has some ability to rush the passer. So I think that's what we'll start with right now too and he'll play three-technique and go from there.”
As for playing time in his first year with the Buckeyes, that may depend on how quickly Malone can adapt and how big a leap he can take with all of his attention on football. Ohio State’s three top tackles are already set in stone with Mike Hall, Ty Hamilton and Tyleik Williams returning to the program, and players like Hero Kanu and Jaden McKenzie may have a leg up on Malone considering the time they’ve spent in Johnson’s system.
But Johnson doesn’t seem to be placing a whole lot of pressure on Malone to play a massive role up front right away. After redshirting in 2021, Malone still has three years of eligibility with which to develop at Ohio State. That means adding depth to the Buckeye defensive line in 2023 could be a fine enough starting point for Johnson’s talented new transfer addition.
“I hope he can bring some depth to us,” Johnson said. “I liked him in high school. I saw him in high school, recruited him out of high school. We thought we had a shot at him but he wanted to play baseball and do both. But I think it's gonna bring depth to us. I like where he's at right now. His weight is down. He lost a lot of weight playing baseball. He's right around 300. He looks good. … I'm happy to have him.”