MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — We’re all suckers for the story Malachi Ruffin is writing with his career as a West Virginia cornerback.
“It’s an unbelievable story,” Brown began.
It begins coming out of high school in Nashville, N.C. You hear about three-star recruits, four-star recruits, five-star recruits.
What you don’t hear about are no-star recruits.
That’s Malachi Ruffin.
“No stars,” Brown said. “Nobody recruited him. He came to West Virginia because he wanted to be a Mountaineer.”
The first they knew about him was when he came out for the school tryout. Like sure, you’re going to make the team that way.
It was a long time ago now. He’s entering his sixth season, which means he’s been at WVU longer than Neal Brown and his staff.
The previous staff saw something in him you can’t teach., He ran fast.
“Walk-on player, obviously,” Brown said. “Was on the scout team for two years, didn’t play a lot.”
You look up his bio and it says freshman year “redshirted”, redshirt freshman year “Did not see game action.”
Yet he stayed ... or maybe no one else just didn’t want him.
The next season was 2020, the COVID-19 year. He played 75 snaps, 65 of them on special teams. It was a step forward.
At least they had to wash his jersey after games.
ShaDon Brown joined the staff in 2021 and Ruffin became noticeable. He played in 11 games, 200 snaps, although only 33 of them were on defense, the rest special teams, but he was making tackles there.
That running speed helped him on special teams.
“He’s a 4.4 guy,” Brown said. “He can really run.”
As a special-teams player he excelled and earned a scholarship, this, of course, making him a “Rudy” like figure in the locker room.
He pushed on. Last year he was used as a utility player ... but his playing time was sporadic and it wasn’t at corner.
Then came the Baylor game.
“He had not had a rep at corner in three weeks,” Brown admitted.
But WVU was lean at corner last year. You might remember their top defensive back, Charles Wood, had gone down 12 plays into the season and that threw everything out of whack in the secondary, including the attitude of the players.
“We had two injuries and a targeting and were down to our fourth or fifth guy,” Brown said, adding “we were thin as nickel soup.”
You’ve all had nickel soup, we presume. Don’t be looking for the chunks of ham or chicken in it.
“I went over to Malachi and said, ‘Hey, you gotta go, man,’” Brown recalled. “He didn’t bat an eye. He was kind of blinking and said, ‘At safety?’ And I said, ‘No, at corner.’”
It was a lot to ask but Ruffin jumped right in there.
“He made a couple of plays and saved a touchdown on a post ball down the hospital end. It was a big play and it ignited him. He ended up playing pretty consistently for us at times.”
Oh, he had some games that weren’t as good as others, but he had spent like five years where he never played, Brown stressed.
Now, you may recall the play that he became famous for — perhaps infamous is more the correct word.
It was third and 10 and they came at Ruffin. He was all over the play and thought he had knocked the ball loose out of the receiver’s hands, only he held on. Ruffin started celebrating, signaling incomplete as the receiver took the ball downfield for a 42-yard game.
It was not a pleasant trip back to the sidelines after that series.
“I told him I love him ... in a different way,” Brown admitted. “I was very upset with Malachi, but he did a great job of coming back after that. If you saw that game, he made the Not Top 10 Plays on SportsCenter.
“But they came back at him three straight times and if he doesn’t make three straight plays, we don’t win,” Brown said. “That’s a big moment for a kid, to go from being the lowest of low to the highest of highs.
“But that’s who he is, Steady Eddie. I mean demeanor, poise, he doesn’t get too high or get too low, and that’s why he was able to come back and make those plays and allow us to beat Oklahoma State.
“You gotta have a short memory at cornerback. You usually don’t get redos. But if you do, you have to make the play. If you do, they won’t come at you that often.”
Now, Ruffin is firmly in the mix in the secondary and Brown is glad he is.
“Now, coming back as a sixth-year player, he’s really confident, he knows his job, he plays really hard, can play multiple positions, even without practicing, play on all four special teams,” the coach said.
“He’s one of those guys you probably don’t write a whole lot of articles about, you won’t find a whole lot of clips with his name on Google, but as a coach you’re always looking for him. You know if there’s a hole, he can fill it. He’s like a commercial for Flex Seal Glue. He can always fill it.”
Well, can’t say that anymore. This was Malachi Ruffin’s story.