Small College Sports

Sam Maloney has worked to make his final Loras football season his best

Former West Delaware prep off to strong start with 13 catches, 224 yards

Former West Delaware prep Sam Maloney breaks loose after a reception for Loras. (Loras athletics)
Former West Delaware prep Sam Maloney breaks loose after a reception for Loras. (Loras athletics)

DUBUQUE — Hard work has been a cornerstone in Sam Maloney’s football career.

The blue-collar approach helped him earn all-state honors and school records as a prep at West Delaware. He continued to apply the same lessons when he joined the Loras program.

Living with a single mother since fifth grade really left no choice but to bust his hump in anything he did.

“I always saw her working hard as a single mother and that kind of rubbed off on me,” Maloney said of his mom, Tina. “And, because she was a single mother, I had to work hard. It was a combination of those two things. I saw her working hard and I had to work hard. I had no options.”

Maloney has developed into the Duhawks’ leading pass catcher. The senior receiver is coming off his career-best game and will face Coe in the American Rivers Conference opener Saturday at the Rock Bowl, beginning at 1 p.m.

Maloney surpassed 1,000 career receiving yards after his 173-yard, eight-catch performance in a 42-14 home victory over Benedictine (Ill.) last week.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Maloney said. “This week, even though we got better, we still aren’t where we want to be. Personally, it was a good jump for me. At least, (quarterback) Noah Sigwarth and I finally getting on the same page, was good for the both of us.”

Maloney’s transformation from work-in-progress freshman to senior captain has been accompanied by a strong work ethic. It’s a trait he learned from his family.

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The middle of three sons said his older brother, Michael, was a role model, starting a business his freshman year of college and still operating it more than six years later in Cedar Falls.

Maloney credited his mother and his father, Mike, for instilling the value of hard work. Tina made a big impression on him after an amicable divorce, according to Maloney. He witnessed her daily effort to provide for her family. Maloney said he was forced to grow up quickly.

“I think that’s where I get a lot of it from,” Maloney said. “Just having to endure through that. My parents are still great. They’re always there. I had more responsibility on my shoulders when I became part of a single-parent household. Work ethic is something you always have to improve.”

Loras Coach Steve Helminiak has seen Maloney apply that attitude in all he does. It transfers from the athletic arena to academia.

“He brought it to the classroom, the football field and the weight room,” Helminiak said. “It’s kind of who he is and how he was raised. I think he’s going to be a success because of it.

“He’s got that blue-collar work ethic without a doubt. He’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and go to work. He does it every day at practice. He did it in the weight room this offseason.”

Maloney played in one game as a freshman with any statistics. He appeared in six games as a sophomore with 240 receiving yards, including one catch for 19 yards in a 44-38 home win in Coe’s last visit to Dubuque.

Last season, he played in nine games, reeling in 39 catches for 628 yards and six scores, including 148 yards and two TDs against Nebraska Wesleyan.

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Part of Maloney’s progress was devoting time to understanding the more complicated college schemes and putting weight on his 6-foot-5 frame, growing to 205 pounds.

Maloney also learned how to run better routes, the roles of other offensive players and defensive approaches to improve as a receiver.

“When I walked in I was not ready to play college football,” Maloney said. “It was one of those things where I had to keep working and get better every season.

“I achieved all of that. I know the playbook. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been. Just doing those things to help me succeed. Working my way up was a little different in college than in high school.”

Helminiak said Maloney has multiple tools at his disposal. He has surprising speed for his size, able to sprint downfield on a vertical route outside the numbers or a post pattern down the middle. Maloney is a target in the red zone, where he can out-jump defenders.

“He’s deceptively fast,” Helminiak said. “He really runs away from people. He is sort of a strider and glides. It kind of looks effortless. He’s got really soft hands.

“He’s a big, thick, tall receiver that can run. At our level, to get a guy like that is huge.”

Maloney is off to a strong start. He has 224 yards on 13 catches and two TDs. He has a 17.2-yard average per reception with a long gain of 82 yards. Coe (1-1) brings some familiar faces to town, including his former West Delaware quarterback Max Ridenour, who is a Kohawk backup. The two might have exchanged some good-natured Snapchat messages this week.

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“Maybe a little bit (of smack talk),” Maloney said. “I’m excited because there are like six or seven West Delaware kids on Coe. There’s a ton.”

Maloney is poised to have his best season in his last. He realizes that each practice and game is one more closer to the end of his football playing days. He plans to appreciate every bit of it.

“That’s a big driving factor,” said Maloney. “It’s just getting the chance to play football. The practices are counting down as well. You can’t take it for granted. It really hits you when you’re a senior.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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