When Malcolm Pridgeon heard the words this summer, he could barely contain himself.
The Ohio State offensive lineman had been through so much — the death of his father as a boy, seeing his mother go into a nursing home, a devastating injury early in his Ohio State career.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
When training camp started, Pridgeon was just one of many in the mix for a starting job. After picture day, Pridgeon and Michael Jordan were in the meeting room when offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said he wanted to meet individually with them.
“We thought it was something bad,” Pridgeon said.
After talking with Jordan, Studrawa told Pridgeon the good news: He’d won the starting left guard job.
“He had tears in his eyes,” Studrawa said.
Pridgeon shook Studrawa’s hand and promised him he wouldn’t regret it.
“It was the most important moment in my life,” Pridgeon said. “I knew I had to take on a big responsibility on this team. I couldn’t let my teammates down, my coaches down, my family down.”
So far, so good. He is part of a line that has allowed the Buckeyes to rank third in total offense nationally and second in scoring.
“It’s the greatest story in the world,” Studrawa said of Pridgeon’s emergence.
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Pridgeon, 23, grew up in Long Island hamlet of Central Islip, New York. Pridgeon’s father, James Earl Pridgeon, died when Malcolm was 11. Not long after that, his mother, Peggy White, had to be moved into a nursing home. She has battled lupus and asthma and then had a heart attack and stroke that left her to unable to walk.
Pridgeon’s older sister by 15 years, Kalisha White, took over as the caregiver for him and his two older brothers. Kalisha worked — and still works — two jobs to provide for her family.
“She had some struggles, some ups and downs, but she never gave up,” Pridgeon said of his sister. “That’s where I get it from, seeing her do what she did to put food on the table and keep a roof over our head and making sure we got to class.”
Malcolm had to grow up quickly, and he did.
“If dinner wasn’t done because I wasn’t home from work, he would make dinner and make sure it was cleaned up,” Kalisha said. “He did his homework. I never got any bad reports about him.”
Pridgeon proved to be a natural in the kitchen. Kalisha had surgery in 2010 when Malcolm was 15. It was in late November, and Malcolm volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner. Kalisha gave him a grocery list, and he did the rest.
“Turkey, sweet potato pie, ham, collard greens, big macaroni and cheese, stuffing — the whole nine yards,” she said. “It was excellent. After that, I knew he was going into culinary arts.”
That’s Pridgeon’s minor at Ohio State — his major is sport industry — and his goal is to open a restaurant someday.
• • •
Pridgeon handled the adversity in his life “like a champ,” according to Kalisha. It helps that he has an endearing personality.
“I feel like if you’ve got a problem with Malcolm Pridgeon, you’re just a hater,” Ohio State right tackle Isaiah Prince said. “You can’t not like Malcolm. He is one of the coolest people on the team.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer seconded that.
“Just a wonderful young man,” he said. “I’m speaking personally, but I know we are all a fan of his because he’s such a good kid.”
Kalisha said with a laugh that even when Malcolm annoyed her, she could never stay angry at him for more than five seconds.
“He’s got that big sweet smile,” she said. “He looks at you and he just sucks you in. He’s a big teddy bear. Deep down, he’s a poodle. He can’t hurt anybody. He takes (his aggression) out on the field.”
• • •
Sports were Pridgeon’s release and he developed into a blue-chip prospect. But he got into a hole academically his freshman year of high school because of the turmoil in his life.
“My mom was in a nursing home, and I was overwhelmed with all that stuff,” he said. “That took a little toll on me, but I knew I had to get back on my feet.”
He did, with the help of a strong support system of Central Islip coaches. He’s also grateful for help from his coaches at nearby Nassau Community College.
Pridgeon originally committed to Rutgers but accepted an offer from Ohio State on signing day in 2016 after then-OSU assistant coach Ed Warinner recruited him.
Pridgeon figured to contend right away for a starting job as a Buckeye. Instead, he suffered torn medial collateral and posterior collateral ligaments in his right knee on the first day of two-a-day practices.
“It was a sad moment in my life, but I looked at it as a blessing,” Pridgeon said.
He rehabbed diligently, made sure he kept up academically and developed a bond with his teammates and coaches. But injured players, as Studrawa noted, often feel apart from their healthy teammates. That’s especially true for a player who’d just joined the team.
“All of a sudden, he’s gone,” Studrawa said. “He’s not in the meeting room. He’s rehabbing. He missed an entire year of meetings, so he was behind mentally in learning our offense. He had to wait until the next spring to even start learning the offense again.”
• • •
Pridgeon saw action as a backup last year and he prepared for this season knowing that as a senior, it was now or never. Studrawa raved about his work ethic, and he quickly earned the left guard spot when Jordan was moved to center.
Pridgeon has been a part of an offensive line that has been the foundation of Ohio State’s early offensive success. His signature play so far came Saturday on a block that helped spring Parris Campbell on a 63-yard touchdown reception that sparked the comeback victory over TCU. Pridgeon pushed the TCU defensive tackle to the ground and then hustled to block safety Ridwan Issahaku before he could hit Campbell at the line of scrimmage. Campbell raced 63 yards for the score.
“Once I knew I had the block, I looked back and saw Parris running down the sideline, and it was a great feeling,” Pridgeon said.
Back in New York, his mom was watching.
“She got to see the game last week on TV,” Kalisha White said. “They did a close up of him and she was thrilled. All smiles. She started crying in the middle of the game.”
Asked to measure her level of pride in her brother, Kalisha replied, “Infinity.”
“He’s my star,” she said. “He’s the reason why I get up every day and keep going. When he was younger, I always told him after what happened to my mother that I wanted him to stay focused and finish school and make sure he graduated and be something better than I was.
“You don’t know how hard this kid had to work his ass off to get there. He’s not your ordinary kid.”
Pridgeon is determined to keep making his family and team proud. After all he’s endured, success tastes pretty sweet.
“I’m loving life right now,” he said. “Loving it.”