By Kelsey Horton
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Any Division I athlete will tell you that playing a sport is a full time commitment. Players must train physically and mentally so that they are ready for game day, where all their hard work is left on the field. Being an athlete requires an unparalleled mental toughness and commitment to improving yourself for your team. But how does a player handle the pressure when they are asked to push themselves twice as much? This is what was expected of senior football player, Jack Maliska (Winchendon, Mass.) when he was asked to play both sides of the ball this season.
To put this difficult task in perspective, the last Holy Cross two-way player was the beloved Gordie Lockbaum. Being one of the last small-school players to get recognition, he finished third for the Heisman Trophy in 1987. Lockbaum was a two-time first team All-American selection, receiving recognition for offense, defense and special teams.
Twenty-five years later Maliska was asked by his team to accept the same challenge because of the number of injuries on the offensive line. "We started camp with a shortage of offensive linemen and when a couple more went down with injuries, we were struggling to practice the way we would have liked," said head coach Tom Gilmore. "The situation grew even worse when still more injuries ensued and we were now facing an enormous problem. We had only two out of five healthy starters going at that time and several backups were out of the lineup, so we had to evaluate all possible options."
At this point Maliska had not taken a single snap as an offensive lineman in his career and the team was already halfway through training camp. "Jack was the only defensive lineman that had the physical traits to successfully make the switch," Gilmore said.
Maliska made the choice seem easy. "The team needed me to play on offense this year, and I am always willing to do what is the best for the team."
Then the hard part came. Maliska had to learn the offensive line schemes and techniques that sometimes take highly recruited players years to master the position well enough to perform at the Division I level. Maliska got right to work. He mainly met with the offense for meetings and would meet individually with some of the defensive coaches to make sure that he didn't fall too far behind. For practice, he would spend the majority of the time with the offense and take a few snaps on defense throughout the week to make sure he didn't get too rusty. Maliska proved to be ready and was playing as an offensive lineman in just three weeks for the second game of the season. Once he got the hang of it, he was able to play some defense too but his amount of defensive snaps were limited due to the number of plays he was a part of on offense. "If I had to pick a game that I played best on both sides of the ball, it would probably be Brown as it was the game that I had played a good amount of snaps on both sides," said Maliska.
In 11 games this season, he played 620 snaps as an offensive guard, 74 snaps as a defensive tackle and 47 snaps on special teams. Maliska started eight games on offense and four games on defense, including starts on both sides of the ball against Dartmouth, Harvard and Georgetown. He recorded four total tackles on defense, and was on the field for 20 of the team's 28 touchdown drives on offense. Over the course of his collegiate career, Maliska recorded 52 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss.
"The hardest part about playing both sides of the ball is just always paying attention to the game as I am pretty much always on call at any point in the game," said Maliska.
Unfortunately he was not recognized on the 2012 All-Patriot League teams but coach Gilmore notes that his hard work is recognized and appreciated by the team. "In my 27 years of coaching at this level, I have never seen a player go both ways on the line. The physical and mental demands are just too great for even an accomplished player and that is why it is never done any more. It speaks volumes of Jack's abilities and work ethic for what he has done for us this past season. He also set aside his own personal goals for the sake of the team, displaying an extremely high level of character that is rarely seen these days."
It is because of his character that Maliska shows no regrets for taking one for the team. "I think that it has been a great opportunity and I'm glad that I could do what I can to help out the team. While the season obviously didn't go the way that we had wanted or imagined, I think that the experience that was gained from this season will be beneficial for the future teams."
Malsika, appreciated by Gilmore and his teammates, seems to be the only person unfazed by all the work he had to put in this season. "I don't prefer one side over the other. The training is pretty similar for both," he modestly said. He was also able to add humor to his situation. "I fortunately never forgot what side of the ball I was on, although I joked about it plenty of times with people." His teammates are most likely appreciative of that too.