The 2015 edition of National Signing Day was full of enough twists and turns to make one dizzy, most of them focused on indecisive teens and coaches who weren’t quite standing by their previous word. No one can level either of those complaints against new Idaho football signee Jace Malek, or the program he just joined. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: The Vandals are committing to Malek even though there is a reasonable chance that he’ll never play a down for the team.
As reported by Spokane, Washington NBC affiliate KHQ and the Spokesman-Review, Malek signed on to play football at Idaho on National Signing Day just a week after being diagnosed with cancer. The West Valley senior, who was a star fullback for the school’s football team, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an often treatable form of cancer if it is detected early enough. It is the same form of cancer that afflicted Mark Herzlich, the Giants linebacker, during his senior season at Boston College. Malek will begin radiation treatment later in February and will likely miss the entirety of his freshman season dealing with treatment and recovery.
That’s an optimistic forecast, as it’s entirely possible that Malek will never play football again. Apparently that prospect didn’t deter Idaho and head coach Paul Petrino from doubling-down on the program’s commitment to Malek.
Here’s how Malek describes his interaction with the Idaho coaching staff leading up to Signing Day:
“I told them, ‘listen, I know you need to do what’s best, and I realize that might not be keeping my scholarship.’”
The school’s response blew him away.
“They said ‘you’ve been with us this whole time,’” Malek explained. “Idaho is not leaving your side.”
There is significant irony here because of the coach uttering those words. Paul Petrino is the brother of Bobby Petrino, the Louisville coach who famously pulled a scholarship offer from a South Carolina running back days before National Signing Day. That back, Matt Colburn, is now reassessing his options while Louisville used his scholarship to add another defensive player. Meanwhile, the move by Louisville earned a ban from the Dutch Fork campus where Colburn played for both Bobby Petrino and his coordinators.
Naturally, the decisions made by the two brothers couldn’t be more different, and the reactions they inspired have been about as polarizing as one could imagine.