When DeAngelo Malone received a call on Friday night during the 2022 NFL Draft, he initially thought it was a friend of his from back home, not realizing his childhood dreams were about to become reality.
"At first, I didn't know how to feel because I didn't know what round I was going," Malone said. "They had me projected to go third or fourth round, but I never knew when the call was approaching. Once I answered the phone, they were like, 'Is this DeAngelo?' so I got real emotional and I almost cried. I was very excited. I thank God."
Growing up in Ellenwood, Georgia, roughly 13 miles outside of Atlanta, football was in Malone's nature. If he wasn't outside playing it, he was watching it. The football savant would habitually watch Michael Vick and the Falcons play every Sunday. He was much of a Vick fan that he had both his No. 7 jersey and cleats to match for when game days rolled around. Those moments of watching his hometown team play would later come back around for the Atlanta native.
As a kid, Malone would often be criticized for his stature on the field, hearing "you're not big enough, you're not strong enough."
Through any uncertainty that anyone may have had about his game, his confidence never wavered. In fact, it only added fuel to the fire.
"Just having heart," Malone said. "Just having that mindset. I feel like having that mindset separated me from a lot of people and as a player, I just grew from there."
Malone played wide receiver his entire life and throughout his first season at Martin Luther King Jr. High, before his coach insisted on him switching to defensive end during his sophomore year. He was quick, elusive and gritty, so it made sense for Malone to make this move. As a smaller defensive end that weighed under 200 pounds, there was never any doubt in his mind that he could match up against bigger players. That proved true.
"Size… it plays a big part but at the same time it doesn't," Malone said. "You can be the biggest player and be outsmarted, so I would say technique [is more important]."
During his senior year, after he transferred to Cedar Grove High School, Malone tallied 49 tackles, 20 solo tackles, two forced fumbles and averaged five sacks on the season. Malone showed promise at the defensive end position, and he led Cedar Grove to a AAA state championship in his lone year at the school.
Following an unprecedented run, Malone signed to Western Kentucky University on national signing day in 2017.
During his time as a Hilltopper, he gained 40 pounds, adding strength and versatility at the edge rusher position. He would go on to be one of WKU's most decorated players, etching his name in the history books.
During his last year on the Hill, Malone was named 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl American Team MVP, Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, All-Conference USA First Team and PFF College All-CUSA First Team.
I mean, the accolades speak for themselves.
Coming from a relatively small school, playing in the 2022 Senior Bowl was crucial for Malone to show why he belonged there.
"I knew I had a point to prove," Malone said. "That week of preparation, I came in with the mindset of leaving everything out on the field. I felt like I took advantage of the opportunity that was presented in front of me. Every time I stand out on that field, I play with a chip on my shoulder."
That same mentality is what earned him a spot in the Falcons draft class. Playing at the highest level was always the goal for Malone, but playing for his hometown team meant everything to him.
"I felt very blessed," Malone said. "My support system is very big, and I appreciate everybody that reached out to me. That right there motivates me to take my game to another level and become a better player."
The start of his NFL journey has already begun. Malone says he has been prepared for this moment his entire life.
"I'm ready to get out there with the defense and make my first play," Malone said. "However way I can contribute to the team, you know, it's going to be special. It's going to be a big year. Rise up!"