Today we have special guest Malik Hamner. Defensive Lineman of the New Jersey Generals. Malik was just drafted in round four of the inaugural USFL draft, following a whirlwind week that saw him receive his request to sign a contract less than 7 days prior to the draft. Malik how are you doing today?
Malik: Doing well how about you?
Sam: I can’t complain, it’s been a pretty awesome day getting you on with me as far as I am concerned.
I wanted to start with your background before we get into your reaction to your selection in round 4. In college you had a single game that saw you block 3 field goals.
Malik: Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s one of my best games. I was astounded that game. I didn’t even believe I could do that.
Sam: Is there a special technique to that or is it simply your quick burst off the line, and your long arms?
Malik: That Game I noticed on the first field goal they kicked, that they were split down the middle. The snapper would keep his head down, would never look up. The guard next to him would go down to the right, especially if he had someone shoot that gap. So I switched places with my teammate and told him to shoot that gap hard. Because I have longer arms, and had a higher chance of getting there. I told him to shoot that gap real hard, and every time he went right, and I just split the center and guard. It was just studying how they get their stance and things.
Sam: Was that pregame study, or was that something you notice in game?
Malik: It was something we went over during the week, a couple times but never really zoned in on it. You know it’s rare you block a field goal. Once I got out there, I picked up the game film, and put it with the reality of it. At the time when I saw that I, said okay I’m going to take advantage of that. That there is what saved us from the lost that game.
Sam: Another stat I stumbled across is that those were not in fact your only blocked field goals of your career. You actually had 4 for your whole college career. Is that correct?
Malik: Yeah, Yes Sir, Yes Sir.
Sam:You were named DPOW 8 times during your 4 year college career that saw you also be named all conference. Is there any honor you achieved during your career that stands above the rest?
Malik: Um yeah, I would say when I got MVP, and I was pretty happy when I got MVP of the classic game. I was pretty happy about those. Everybody always wants to be named MVP, you know? So that was a pretty happy moment for me.
Sam: Was that a player voted on thing or coaches?
Sam: Ah that makes it even better if you ask me. That means you really showed out all game.
Malik: Yes sir it is.
Sam: Is it true that following a torn labrum you still managed to put up 21 reps in the bench press prior to the 2019 NFL Draft?
Malik: Yes sir, I tore it the first game against Southern Miss, actually. I played the whole season like that. I just knew it was one of those things that it’s my senior year, and I got to go all in. But, it’s just I always had natural strength, but you have to fight through a little adversity. So it was cool.
Sam: That’s crazy. Just goes to show you your determination and willingness to play through injury. I was not aware it was an early season injury. I thought it was something that happened late in the year and you carried it into the combine.
Malik: Yes sir, it was early in the season. First game of the year against Southern Miss.
Sam: And you went ahead and played with it all year long. Did the doctors and trainers know about the injury at the time? I mean I guess they knew to some extent.
Malik: The trainers made me go to the doctor the following Monday. That’s when I had my MRI. That’s when they told me, don’t lift heavy and go light in practice. They didn’t expect me to do all I did, but it was cool. I had to do what I had to do.
Sam: At just under 280 lbs you were able to run a 4.80 40 yard dash. To put that into perspective the average NFL ILB runs around a 4.75. Could you see a scenario where you could line up as a rush linebacker in the USFL?
Malik: Oh yeah, for sure for sure. I love playing. I think I have been an agile person, cause in high school I played wide receiver and all of that. So, I think I can. 40 is not my strong suit, it’s completely different than game speed, you know what I’m saying? I definitely feel like I can line up outside, and even play some outside linebacker and cover the flats.
Sam: Definitely. Interesting, I’m interested to see what front Mike Riley decides to run. If I’m not mistaken he hasn’t named a defensive coordinator. So it will be interesting to see what he chooses to do, and specifically what he chooses to do with you. You’re so versatile, and you can basically play just about any position in the front 7. Outside of maybe inside linebacker, and I wouldn’t put it past you to play that position either. You have a body type, and skillset that would lend itself to many different alignments and schemes. Is there any particular scheme you feel best fits your talent and if so why do you say that?
Malik: I play whatever the coaches ask me to. But I do like the 4-3, we played a 4-3 my junior or sophomore year of college. Man it was like, we ran a 3-4 on certain situations, like 3rd and long, with 3 guys down that was quick and could pass rush. I played on that, but 4-3 is more comfortable. Because I feel like everyone just knows their job, and we were unstoppable all the years we played that.
Sam: You just mentioned having played in a 3-4 front, where did you line up in those situations?
Malik: The whole D-line. I played nose, I played the end, we used to play heads up. So if you was playing end, you wouldn’t line up outside the tackle. You would line up right down the middle of the tackle, everytime. They was doing it so you don’t let the offensive lineman know where you’re going. He’s never going to know If you line up the exact same every play. So if you slant inside or slant outside, or you’re running a stunt they never know what you’re going to do. So it was cool. We would run, that or pass rush on 3rd and long. They would line me up at the nose standing up, or getting down in the 3. Just to pass rush up the middle, and get pressure up the middle.
Sam: You signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. Was there something that drew you to the Jaguars?
Malik: Nah, it was kind of surprising. I talked to 31 of 32 teams that year, which was very surprising, well I don’t want to say surprising, but I was excited about it. I didn’t expect the Jags to take me. During the pro day the Jags coach was really rooting for me, and I noticed he was really paying attention to me. Then the night of the draft, the first night, the 49ers, and the Dolphins texted me so I wasn’t expecting the Jags to take me.
Sam: In Jacksonville you worked under Todd Wash, and Jason Rebrovich was there anything in particular you learned from either man that helped you remain within professional football?
Malik: Uh, Not really. They ran a pretty close defense to us (in college) so I caught on to the plays really quickly. They just always stayed on you tough, emphasized getting extra work, and extra film. Things like that.
Sam: You said there was a coach that had his eye on you, was it one of the men I mentioned or was it another coach.?
Malik: It was somebody else. I can’t remember his exact name, but it was somebody else.
Sam: I read the interview you did with Victory Formation following the 2019 season, and saw that the host actually credited you with being faster following your surgery. Do you second this assessment of yourself?
Malik: I second that assessment. I think during my college days I was up and down in weight a lot. When I got there I was like 240, and they had me at end. But we had like 9 ends, so they needed more 3 techs, so they made me go up to 265. Then they made me drop back down to go to end again, then they made me raise back up again. I got to the point where I was at a comfortable weight. To put it in less words, During college I was more a big bodied guy, much thicker, now I’m more leaned out, and more explosive. I’ve worked on getting off better, so I agree with him. I think I’m a whole lot faster than I was in college.
Sam: I was going to say, I’m no judge of size, but you definitely don’t look like you’re 280 lbs. to me.
Malik: I get that all the time, I appreciate it.
Sam: Malik there isn’t much info out there on your career, can you fill us in on what you’ve been doing since you left the Jaguars, up until present day?
Malik: I went to Tampa for a while, and I went to an XFL try out in Tampa too. It was pretty much after the 2020 season, and all that. I didn’t stay there in Tampa too long. I think that’s when I went to go have my surgery. My agent referred me to go have my surgery Go have surgery, get it out of the way and stuff like that. So pretty much that’s why I told you I didn’t play in 2021. Like in 2021 I was just getting back healthy. This will be my biggest debut.
Sam: Well I gotta be honest, a lot of times you see taking a year off as hurting or hindering a player. Obviously it hasn’t affected you in terms of coaching or overall reputation, because you went on to be selected by the USFL.
Malik: Yes Sir.
Sam: During the 2022 USFL draft you were the first of eight HBCU players that were drafted. What does it mean to you that you are able to represent HBCU athletes across the country in this new league?
Malik: It means a lot to me honestly. Going to an HBCU was a dream, a dream come true. It was a different environment, I’m not gonna say a different environment, but it was one of the best experiences I could ever take. There’s a lot of great players, and talent in the HBCU’s, so I’m happy that they would choose me to be the first of the other 7, and I’m very grateful for that.
Sam: Just a week ago you were uncertain you would even be offered a contract from the USFL, now you were drafted as the 3rd defensive lineman for the New Jersey Generals and Defensive head coach Mike Riley. How has the last week for you after spending the 2021 season away from the game you love?
Malik: I’m not gonna say I didn’t expect to get picked. I just kind of left it in God’s hands. But the last week has been kind of nerve wracking you know what I mean? Wondering if you were going to get picked, and wondering if someone was going to choose you and things like that. Still working out hard, training hard like it was a regular week for me.
Sam: In the Spring League we have seen several coaches use defensive players on offensive before as lead blockers. Most don’t have the offensive background you have as a tight end in high school. If Coach Riley comes to you during a game and asks you to step in at tight end or fullback in a short yardage situation would you be comfortable stepping into that role?
Malik: Oh yeah, Oh yeah!! I’d get out there and do it. Before I switched to defense I loved playing tight end. I loved playing tight end. Because I was great at blocking, but I also had great hands for my size.
Sam: Well I for one, hope it happens. I would love to see you out there as a fullback or tight end.
Malik: Me and you both.
Sam: Well, Are you going to be campaigning for any sort of two way role, or will you just wait for the coaches come to you?
Malik: If he asks me, I’m gonna raise my hand. But I’m not just going to run up to him, and be like hey throw me out there at tight end. IF they need me out there I’m down to go. Whatever’s best for the team.
Sam: Makes sense, honestly with the smaller roster’s they’re carrying in the USFL, I think it’s only 38 players, you might see some time on offense.
Malik: Hey, I’m with it.
Sam: Definitely, well I appreciate you spending the time with me to discuss your career. I wish you the utmost success at the USFL level, and I can’t wait to see you line up as a member of the New Jersey Generals. Is there anything you want to say or anyone you want to shout out before we hop off?
Malik: Nah, I appreciate you taking the time out, and having me as the interview cohost today. Thank you for wishing me the best of luck, can’t wait to get out here and show these guys what they missed out on this past season.
Sam: Cool man, well if you don’t mind I would like to keep in touch, and have you on again down the line, after you win a couple more player of the weeks. Once again thank you for your time, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.
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