Months ago, coaches from the Ohio University Bobcats football team told W.J. Mouat Hawks coach Denis Kelly that Maleek Irons, his star senior running back, was their No. 1 recruiting priority.
It might be easy to dismiss such lofty talk as simply part of the sales pitch, but the NCAA Div. 1 program backed it up in a big way. Three times this fall, the Bobcats sent a member of their coaching staff on a cross-continent flight to watch Irons play and chat with the 17-year-old.
That level of attention paid off – Irons made an official visit to the Athens, Ohio school in early December and subsequently signed a letter of intent, sealing a full-ride scholarship.
“They treated me like family,” Irons told The News, reflecting on his decision to sign with Ohio.
“I was really impressed with the school – the academics, the team, the facilities, the coaching staff. And they have a shortage of running backs, so I have a chance to play.”
Given his resumé at the high school level, it’s no stretch to suggest that Irons could be a player who could contribute as a true freshman for the Bobcats, rather than redshirting for a season as many players do.
He closes the book on his Hawks career as B.C.’s all-time leading high school rusher, having amassed a total of 6,175 yards and 76 touchdowns on the ground. The 3,204 rush yards he racked up in 2012 are a single-season record.
Skill-wise, the 6’0”, 215-pounder boasts great burst and agility, and also finishes his runs with rare power. This past season, he regularly ran over opposing defenders, or carried them for an extra yardage.
Add it all up, and it’s no surprise he was Canada’s No. 1-ranked football prospect in the Class of 2014 according to Ridley Scouting and topprospects.ca.
“Hopefully nobody beats the records any time soon, so I can keep my name up there a bit,” Irons said with a chuckle. “But it’s a great feeling . . . It’s great to leave a legacy at your school.”
Among players he’s coached, Kelly puts Irons in an exclusive group with the last Hawks player to earn an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship, Boseko Lokombo. Lokombo, a linebacker, is putting the finishing touches on his senior season with the Oregon Ducks – he’ll face the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30, and will be eligible for the NFL draft in the spring.
“They’re so far above your normal kid (athletically), you certainly don’t get those every year – maybe a couple per career, I guess,” Kelly said. “He’s right up there with Bo, and hopefully Maleek can follow in his footsteps.
“It’s exciting to see someone you’ve helped out along the way go that far. It’s a very rewarding thing for the program, and for the school. We’ll be following him closely as he goes through.”
Ohio plays in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), which isn’t one of the NCAA’s bigger conferences. But it has produced plenty of terrific football players, including the likes of Randy Moss, Ben Roethlisberger and 2013 No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Eric Fisher in recent years.
“Maleek is probably one of the most talented players ever to come through the B.C. high school system, and hopefully he’ll continue to develop,” Kelly said.
“He’s going to have to step it up in terms of competitiveness – there’s going to be a lot more individuals there who rival his level of ability, which means he’s going to have to be on top of his game the whole time and do everything right.
“The challenge is out there for him, but he certainly has the ability to do great things in the future.”