- Photo by Rob Moore
ATLANTA — High Country Grizzlies receiver Malachi Jones is a candidate for the National Arena League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Jones, a former standout receiver at Appalachian State, was informed of his nomination on July 2 by the NAL. He will attend a banquet in Jacksonville, Fla., on July 9, one day before the NAL championship game on July 10 between the Jacksonville Sharks and the Columbus Lions.
“I’m very, very happy and blessed to be in the situation that I’m in,” Jones said. “I definitely could not be there without the help of my teammates, (quarterback) Stephen Panasuk and the entire organization, which helped me get where I am today.”
Jones caught 66 passes or 685 yards and 16 touchdowns in 10 games for the Grizzlies, leaving him in a tie for third place in the league in receptions. The 3-7 Grizzlies were fourth overall in scoring offense with 44.9 points per game and finished fourth overall in passing with 2,011 yards for the season.
Jones did not know who the other candidates are as the league has not released the names of the other players. Jones is hopeful that his stats are enough to convince the league officials that he is worthy of the award.
“I’m feeling confident about it,” Jones said. “I feel like my numbers speak for themselves and hopefully the committee feels the same way. Regardless, I feel happy that I was nominated by the entire league for the award.”
Jones signed with the Grizzlies in October 2016. Although a solid receiver at Appalachian State, where he caught 25 passes for 463 yards and three touchdowns in 2015, he had a lot to learn about the indoor game.
That education included route running, reading coverages and how to deal with the wall that surrounds the 50-yard field.
“Understanding coverages is similar to outdoor football,” Jones said. “At the same time, it’s kind of difficult just from the way they do it and the way the “jack” linebacker can maneuver and bump the man in motion and things like that.”
He said dealing with the wall took some time. Jones used the wall to his advantage when he made a spectacular catch by jumping to the top of the wall and pulling down a Panasuk pass.
“I hit it plenty of times this season,” Jones said. “I remember my first time hitting it. I was very timid about it and very scared, but then once I hit it I was good to go.”
The Grizzlies lost their final four games of the season, all to playoff-bound teams. High Country missed games against winless Dayton and winless Corpus Christi, which cost the Grizzlies two chances to improve their record against teams that were a combined 0-16 this season.
“We’re just using it as motivation,” Jones said. “Our organization did a great job with it being our first year. The things they were able to provide for us and the situations they were able to put us in, I think we handled ourselves extremely well.”
Jones said there are no immediate tryout opportunities with NFL or Canadian Football League teams on the horizon. He had a tryout scheduled with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders of the CFL in May, but it was cancelled because of inclement weather.
Jones is hopeful that he’ll get another chance with the CFL at the start of September when the league’s teams expand their rosters.
“There is a lot of talk, when the Canadian league has their expansion into September, there is talk about brining me in,” Jones said. “Until then, it’s a waiting game and I’ll see what teams want to do.”
The list of awards include: Best Franchise, Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year, League MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Special teams Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Referee of the Year, Best Fans, Best Dance Team, Best Mascot, Best Game Experience, Best Medical Staff, Best Community Relations, Best Media Relations and Best Website.