'Walk On': former USC football player shares 'unlikely story' of faith and football

Ben Malcolmson
Wide receiver Ben Malcolmson |

UPDATE: 3:15 PM, March 30: A former USC football player contacted CP contesting that he and other former teammates have no recollection of the moments described in Ben Malcolmson's book pertaining to pages of the Bible being ripped out and left on the locker room floor. 

In response, Malcolmson told CP that he never accused his USC teammates of ripping up the Bibles. Malcolmson's book states that Malcolmson walked into the locker room and found pages of the Bibles ripped up but didn't assign blame. "Who knows who did it," Malcolmson said, adding that he understands if some people don't remember certain aspects from 13 years ago.  

Further, the teammate says that other teammates have contested parts of Malcolmson's story referring to Mario Danelo's alleged spiritual walk before death. But Malcolmson reiterated that what he wrote about Danelo he was told by a teammate four years after the season ended. Malcolmson called it an "incredible story of God's providence and God's hand and God's goodness.

Malcolmson stressed that his book tries to convey a positive message about his time on the team. However, he says the overall message was misconstrued by the media.

A former walk-on for the University of Southern California football team has written a new book that details the struggles he faced trying to share his love for Christ with teammates.

Ben Malcolmson, who was once on one of the most dynamic college football teams of its day, now serves as the director of external relations for the Seattle Seahawks and special assistant to head coach Pete Carroll. Malcolmson has authored the book, Walk On, what he calls an “unlikely story of football, purpose and following an amazing God.”

Ben Malcolmson book

The unlikeliness in Malcolmson’s story lies in the fact that he went from being a university newspaper sports editor trying to write a hands-on article about what it's like to try out for the football team, to surprisingly becoming a member of the 2006 USC Trojans football team that went on to win the Rose Bowl.

On a team that also included future NFL players like Ryan Kalil, Clay Matthews III, Brian Cushing, and then-freshman Mark Sanchez, Malcolmson essentially became a USC version of “Rudy.”

Malcolmson told The Christian Post in a phone interview that he only tried out for the team for the journalistic adventure of the challenge. He added that he was “shocked” when he found out that he actually made the team as a scout team reserve.

Having made the team despite what little experience on the gridiron he had, Malcolmson said he felt a deeper purpose for making the cut.

“When I made the team, I had a deep sense that I was there for a reason and that God had put me on that team for a purpose,” Malcolmson told CP. “Because why else would he put me on that team? There had to be a reason. I was pressed into that from day one.”

Malcolmson said that throughout his time on the team, he tried a number of ways to share his faith with his teammates.

One of those was by starting a team Bible study. The only problem was that nobody attended. Malcolmson then started a prayer group. But none of his teammates attended that either.

“I just tried to be a good friend and teammate to the guys around me but I felt like I was not having any impact,” Malcolmson recalled. “I was seeing zero fruit.”

In the book, Malcolmson wrote that he felt like a failure after no one showed up for the prayer session. However, there was still a fire in his soul that “continued to spark.” He was inspired by the words of Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others.”

Having felt like he made little impact on sharing his faith through the entire regular season, Malcolmson made one last-ditch effort to share the Gospel before the team played in the Rose Bowl on new year’s day 2007 against the University of Michigan.  

“I got an idea after reading Isaiah 55. It says in there that ‘If His word goes out, it does not return empty,’” Malcolmson said. “It hit me that we need to put His word out there.”

The idea was to give his teammates Bibles for Christmas.

Malcolmson details in the book that he asked his grandfather, who was volunteering for Gideons International at the time, if there was any way he could get 100 Bibles from Gideons to give out to the team. Malcolmson’s grandparents ended up paying for 100 Bibles to be shipped to the Los Angeles campus.

“I figured that God was faithful to His promise,” said Malcolmson.  “If His word goes out, it's not going to return empty.”

Malcolmson sneaked into the team locker room late Christmas Eve 2006 and placed Bibles on the seats in front of each locker. Malcolmson wrote that he felt the locker room fill with an “undeniable holy presence.”

When he returned to the locker room on Dec. 26, Malcolmson hoped to see his teammates reading the Bibles he gave them.  But upon his return to the locker room, Malcolmson wrote that he could not believe what he saw.

“Everywhere I looked, shredded tissue-thin pages of the Bibles were strewn upon the floor, so much that I could hardly see even a sliver of the cardinal carpet,” he wrote. “I stood frozen in place as my heart sank and I felt the blood drain from my face. Never in any of my daydreams had I envisioned a scene like this.”

Pete Carroll
Ben Malcolmson (L) walks with Seattle Seahawks (R) head coach Pete Carroll. |

Malcolmson admits that he had heard of his teammates “wild buffoonery” and their parties, but figured that the destruction of the Gospel seemed “inconceivable and out of line, even for them.”

At that point, Malcolmson explained that he just “chalked it up to a total defeat of trying to find my purpose on that team.”

Although at the time it didn’t seem like Malcolmson’s outreach to his teammates was working, he later found out that his efforts made a bigger impact than he initially realized.

Mario Danelo
Mario Danelo |

A few days after the Rose Bowl, the team learned of the passing of kicker Mario Danelo who was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in January 2007.  Danelo was the 21-year-old son of former NFL place-kicker Joe Danelo.

“He was one of my closest friends on the team. It was so tragic,” Malcolmson told CP.  “We go to the funeral a few days later and on top of His casket as they carried it down the center aisle was the Bible that I had placed in his locker with the same note sticking out of it.”

Malcolmson said that revelation rocked his world because it “felt like God’s personal touch for me in that moment.”

“It was to say that God had seen me through all these ways that I was trying to find my purpose and God’s hand was one me the whole time,” he said.

Years later, Malcolmson reconnected with teammate Taylor Odegard in Seattle. Malcolmson was told that Danelo did pick up the Bible that was at his locker and “started a relationship with God” the week before he died.

“He started telling me this story of how Mario had met God and started a relationship with God days before He was going to die,” Malcolmson said. “The hand of God was so real. Taylor being able to witness that transformed his life because he saw how real God was and how faithful God was. The domino effect of that continues to go on forever.”

Finding this out years later, Malcolmson said that it shows that “God was at work even though I didn’t see it at the time.”

“Even though I had doubted and was discouraged at the time, God’s hand was so powerfully out [working] in the life of Mario before he passed away and saved his [eternal] life and brought him to Heaven because of that Bible,” Malcolmson explained.  “God does have a purpose for us whether we can see it or not at the moment.”

Malcolmson believes other people can relate to his story.

“For the people reading and following this story, almost everyone can relate. You are putting in all this work and doing all these things but you are just not seeing any results. It can be so discouraging sometimes,” Malcolmson detailed.

“I know that we can all relate with that in our own various ways, whether it's at work or in our families or in school or in teams that we are involved in. We all connect with that desire to see the fruit of our labor.”

Malcolmson is now a member of the non-denominational Reach Church in Kirkland, Washington, where his wife is the college pastor and he volunteers with the college students ministry.

After college, Malcolmson immediately began working for coach Carroll, who coached at USC before going on to coach in the NFL in 2010 and win the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. While in college, Malcolmson was also a member of a Christian fraternity.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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