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Writer's Block ... and Tackles

Ben malcolmsonretired from football at age 10, following a disappointing career with theHinsdale (Ill.) Falcons. "Everyone had to play at least four downs," hesays, "and every game I played four downs." He was the rare child whovalued sheepskin over pigskin: Malcolmson earned his high school diploma injust three years and enrolled at USC, where he's covered 29 consecutivefootball games and three national championships as a writer for the DailyTrojan. Malcolmson knows who the BMOCs are. "Obviously," says thesenior, "football players are idolized on campus."

As for Malcolmson,he avoided contact even during the football games at his fraternity house,Alpha Gamma Omega, where he has been president and chief Poindexter, with a 3.5GPA. But he's also a fearless reporter, which is how he came to be a footballstudent-manager for a day. "I have great respect for those guys," hesays. "You pick up a lot of dirty things." When Malcolmson saw the USCfootball team would hold walk-on tryouts on March 7, he thought it would be afunny story if he tried out. Forced to list a position on his application,Malcolmson wrote, "Wide receiver?" A few days before the tryout hebought a pair of cleats for $34.99 at Sports Authority.

Ten minutes intothat tryout, Malcolmson realized he was in over his head. He'd never run a 40,and when he tried to fake his way into a sprinter's stance, coach Ken NortonJr. recognized this impostor and shouted, "That's the newspaper guy!"Asked to run a Go and a Deep Slant, Malcolmson thought of Madden. "I playvideo games," he says, "so I knew some of the terminology."

Bafflingly, heseemed to make every catch, including a one-hander. And he did run arespectable 4.72 40. But at 6-feet, 169 pounds, he's built like a sunflower,all head and no body. After the tryout, he returned to his room and began towrite a story about "how terrible I am."

Two mornings laterhis friend Lana called and said, "Did you try out for the footballteam?" When Malcolmson said yes, she casually replied, "Well, you madeit," before nattering on about something else. Ben blurted out, "I haveto go."

In a daze he wentto Heritage Hall, where his name was indeed posted with nine others who'd madethe cut. He raced to Pete Carroll's office, where the head coach'ssecretary--who knew Malcolmson as the Daily Trojan beat writer--said, "Yay,Ben!"

"You've gotgood hands and you're quick," Carroll told him. "You want to dothis?" Malcolmson was on the team, having hit history's first walk-on homerun. He rewrote his story, which ran beneath the headline HAULING IN A HAILMARY, then promptly resigned from the paper.

The newest Trojanplayer is still dazed. "It's like when someone dies young and you can'tbelieve it, and you keep telling yourself this can't be," he says.

It wasn't longbefore the reporter turned receiver fielded his first dumb question from themedia--on Ryan Seacrest's radio show. "He asked me," sighs Malcolmson,"if I've been slapping a lot of butts in practice."

From his fratbrothers, "I get nonstop crap," says Malcolmson. Whenever he fails towash his plate promptly, someone will announce, "Ben doesn't have to dothat anymore. He's on the football team."

But his teammateshave treated him well. "I don't think he ever lit any of them up in thepaper," says his friend Kevin Merfeld, the Daily Trojan sports editor.

Malcolmson is nowlifting weights and eating six meals a day. And that doesn't include themassive playbook that he has to digest. "It isn't glamorous at all,"says Malcolmson, who gained 11 pounds in his first 10 days of practice."It's hard work."

In his fourthpractice of the spring, Malcolmson took a helmet-to-helmet hit that broke hischinstrap in half. "I don't remember too much about it," he says."Except that it felt kind of ... good."

And just last weekMalcolmson had surgery to repair the right labrum he tore while separating hisshoulder while blocking. "These are guys who will be in the NFL in a fewyears," he says, flattered to be flattened by them. Oddly, the onlydownside of his new life is the press. "I don't like the spotlight,"says Malcolmson. "It's awkward getting all this attention as theninth-string wide receiver."

And while hedoesn't have a girlfriend, he'll get a lot more handsome on Sept. 16, when theTrojans host Nebraska at the Coliseum. "I can feel it now," saysMalcolmson. "Running out of the tunnel for the first time, with 92,000people screaming, and I'm in the same cardinal-and-gold uniform that legendshave worn."

Four months laterhis carriage will turn back into a pumpkin. This wide receiver, bless hisheart, still wants to become a sportswriter.

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In his fourth practice Malcolmson took ahelmet-to-helmet hit that broke his chinstrap. "I don't remember too muchabout it," he says. "Except that it felt kind of ... good."