The Poetic Soul of Derrick Malone Jr.
Most football players make a point to act like a tough guy on and off the field. Most football players don’t use a pen to express their emotions. Most football players don’t write poetry after practice. Most football players aren’t like Derrick Malone Jr.
But in his opinion, there is no typical football player—although he’ll be the first to admit that he’s always been the “oddball” among his teammates.
“There are many people on the team with different talents. Some people can sing, dance, play instruments, speak different languages…,” the redshirt senior linebacker said. “I feel like the dumb jock stereotype is so outdated. Not any one of us are the same.”
Malone’s unique off-the-field talent happens to be writing.
Statistically, no Oregon defender was tougher than the 6-2, 220-pound inside linebacker last season. In his first year as a fulltime starter, he posted a team-high 105 tackles, two interceptions (one which sealed the Alamo Bowl victory), two sacks and five passes deflected, resulting in an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection. But after Malone sheds his pads and exits the locker room, his mind wanders elsewhere. That’s when he channels his Poetic Soul.
“I have multiple outlets. Writing gets my emotions out, and the aggression comes out with football,” he said. “They’re totally different sides of me, but they’re both my sanctuaries.”
Malone started writing short stories in the sixth grade. It wasn’t until he grew up a bit and became a “hopeless romantic” that he found his passion for poetry.
To the football player-poet, his writing is like his fingerprint. It’s a reflection of who he is, what’s on his mind and what’s underneath his chiseled exterior. It’s also something he considers extremely personal and something he once kept private. In his early writing days, the Colton, Calif. native shied away from sharing his work. Usually the only person he’d give permission to read his poems was his mother, Candice Allen.
In late March of this year, however, all that changed. Thanks in part to an advertising class he took while studying in the School of Journalism & Communication, Malone built up the confidence to create his own blog.
“I’d been wanting to write a blog for a while, but I was like, ‘People don’t really want to check this out or read it.’ But then I was like, ‘What the heck?’” he said.
His teammates call him Poetic Soul, or ‘Po So’ for short, his Twitter handle is @PoeticSoul__ and his nickname is tattooed on his back. “I don’t know what I’d be if I didn’t have poetry or football,” Malone said.
Since he launched his blog, he’s put up nearly 15 posts ranging from poems to personal essays, and the reaction from readers has been completely supportive. His teammates are some of his blog’s biggest fans. “I’ve written a few poems about Oregon football and they all love it,” the senior said. “They come up to me and they say, ‘Bro, you gotta write more like that.’”
Members of the Ducks football team are well aware of Malone’s reputation as the resident poet. It isn’t uncommon for his teammates to approach the linebacker and ask him to take a look at what they’ve written. He always gladly obliges.
“I really like to read other people’s writing. When it comes to writing, you have to put your thought into it,” he said. “It’s different than just speaking because when you write; it goes through your mind, to your hands and on to the pad. It’s a great way to figure out who a person truly is.”
Still, there’s one thing Malone hasn’t yet found the courage to conquer. He’s never recited his poems in front of a live crowd. Though he thrives playing in the spotlight on Saturdays—sometimes in front of a national audience—the thought of performing in a poetry slam makes his nerves quake.
“I’m really shy when it comes to my writing. I have more confidence when it comes to playing football for some reason. There’s just something about writing that leaves me more vulnerable,” he said. “I would get really nervous if it came to me reciting my poetry at some coffee shop in Eugene.”
For now, Malone will continue sharing his work exclusively on his blog, but the day he reads his work on stage will come eventually—after he wraps up his final season with the Ducks.
Poetry and football. There may be no more ironic combination. Yet, for Oregon’s top tackler, they provide the perfect equilibrium.
“It [writing] definitely levels me out. It brings in a more humane side. You’re not always on the go and trying to knock people’s heads off. It’s a different side where I can relax and be calm,” he said.
According to fellow Colton High School alum, redshirt junior linebacker Rodney Hardrick, it’s a classic ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ scenario with Malone. The two have been close friends since high school, although Hardrick admits, with a chuckle, that he didn’t like him when he first met him.
“He breaks the stereotype of a football player, especially the stereotypical linebacker,” Hardrick said. “He’s not just running around and hitting his head on stuff.”
Generally, Malone’s readers are pleasantly surprised after browsing through his blog for the first time. But he doesn’t understand why. “A lot of people don’t know that I’m a journalism major. I write. That’s what I do and that’s what I go to school for. Writing is a really big part of me,” he said.
So the next time you meet a football player, realize that he too is probably not like “most” football players. He could be a singer, a dancer, a guitarist, or even… a poet.
From Malone’s first blog entry: “I’m not your typical jock. I’m the square that was invited to hang out with the cool kids. I’m the football player that writes poetry. I’m Derrick Malone Jr.”