On Dec. 7, Malaki Dowell, along with his family and a group of coaches, dressed up in suits and ties to attend the Mr. Football Award ceremony held at Nissan Stadium. Four-hundred-thirty student athletes would gather for 10 different awards to be given. White County fans gathered around their computers and phones to watch the announcements live on the internet. Mike Keith, the voice of the Titans, began by announcing the finalist and awarding the winner for “1A.” As each division was announced, the winner was handed a bigger trophy as the other two finalist received a plaque and went back to their seats.
Warrior fans were anxious as time for the 5A announcement drew closer. As Malaki made his way to the stage, I noticed a bit of nervousness on his face, something that was never exhibited on the football field. Mr. Football had been his dream. It was a goal that he worked hard for. Malaki is and has always been a “team first” player. Malaki worked hard, fought through rehab, played banged up, and pushed himself in every practice, scrimmage, and game to be the very best. As they read the statistics for each nominee, it would have seemed to be obvious to anyone paying attention that he had accomplished his goal. Only one player in the history of Tennessee high school football ran for more yards in a single season. That player ran for 156 more yards and played in two more games than Malaki. Surely it was just a formality. We were all waiting to hear that Malaki Dowell had been named the 5A Mr. Football award winner.
Then it happened. We all listened as Mike Keith read the words “Your 5A Mr. Football is De’ Sean Bishop from Karns High School.” Everyone was stunned. The reaction was swift. Bishop had a good season, but it paled in comparison to the numbers that Malaki had put up. Sport writers jumped on social media to express their unbelief of what they had just witnessed. Twitter was lit up by teammates, fans, opponents, college, and pro athletes that recognized the injustice that had been done. Many were frustrated. Some were mad. Others were just hurt to see a young man we all love and support be denied something he obviously deserved.
There is one reaction, however, that spoke volumes. It was the reaction of Mr. Malaki Dowell. Many of the finalist who were not chosen simply took their plaque and walked off the stage. When watching a replay of the presentation, I noticed something: Malaki clapped for De’ Sean. In the midst of one of the most disappointing moments of his life, our Malaki had the character and the class to clap for the guy who got the award that should have been his. Malaki makes us want to be better people. He has represented our community with excellence both on and off the field. He, along with his teammates, have given us so much to cheer for over the last few years. Malaki is special. His talents on the football field speak for themselves. Coaches from some colleges have taken notice. Hopefully, a few more options will continue to roll in.
It is unclear what the future holds for this phenomenal young man, but I am sure of a few things. Malaki will be successful wherever he goes. Our community will continue to support him and follow his progress with whatever college is lucky enough to get him. It is this writer’s opinion that Malaki’s name belongs on the wall at the fieldhouse beside all the other White County football greats. Malaki may prove to be the greatest of them all and will always be our “Mr. Football.”
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