LACEY — North Thurston High football coach Rocky Patchin knew the talent Hayden Maliska possessed – his flashy speed, his workhorse mentality – dating back to Maliska’s days in Thurston County Youth Football as a “little tiny guy running around.”
But Maliska, a natural running back, had to wait to play a major role on offense in high school.
“I’m excited to get back,” Maliska said. “It will be a lot of running.”
Defense has been Maliska’s game as a two-year starting linebacker with a combined 185 tackles.
A letter winner since his freshman year, the senior is being asked to do what few players have done for Patchin: be a two-way starter for a coach who normally is hesitant about top offensive players going both ways. Maliska will be a running back and a linebacker
“We don’t have a lot of guys who do that,” said Patchin, who is North Thurston’s winningest football coach with 137 victories. “He’s been a stud since he was a sophomore.”
One player who previously played both ways was Mike Sellers, a senior on Patchin’s first North Thurston team in 1992. He went on to a 12-season NFL career.
In no way is Patchin comparing Maliska to Sellers, but he said a 100-tackle season while getting the ball more than 20 times a game on offense is possible for Maliska.
“It’s fun to think about, but it’s also scary,” said Maliska, whose oldest
brother, Andy, played 17 games at defensive end at Georgetown from 2010-12. “(The coaches) trust me and it makes you feel good about yourself, knowing that they want to put the ball in your hands that much.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Maliska was the No. 3 backfield option last season on a Rams team that played in the 3A state quarterfinals – the program’s deepest playoff run since 2000 – after Mo Manning and Brandon Belisario.
Maliska had 12 carries for 50 yards, which was far less than his 616 yards on 79 carries as a part-time starter as a sophomore.
To prepare for rarely leaving the field this season, Maliska took to the water.
With persuasion from friend Tyler Ridgeway, who graduated in June, he joined the Rams’ swim team as a 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly specialist to build strength, endurance and flexibility. He helped the team go undefeated in league and place ninth at the state meet.
He continued to swim twice a week this offseason in addition to participating in cross fit workouts and playing American Legion baseball.
“It helps so much in every aspect,” Maliska said. “… It’s going to be a good year. I’m ready for it.”INSIDE B5 Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick