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Graduate Student Isaiah Malcome catches the ball while getting rushed by Dartmouth defensive on Oct. 1. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Despite being a graduate student in Wharton studying business management with a minor in marketing, running back Isaiah Malcome decided to come back for another year to play the sport he’s loved since he was a little kid. 

Hailing from Atlanta, Ga., Malcome grew up playing football from a very young age and credits his older brother with influencing his choice in sports. 

“It was the first sport I learned how to play when I was four years old,” Malcome said. “I also started playing basketball at that age from the influence of my older brother, but football was the first game I understood when I was a child. It was so fun when I started, because I played defensive end to start, which seems crazy to think about now. I loved competing with my friends every day, even if it was a friendly game of every man for themselves. I just enjoyed playing the game everyday.” 

It was this love of the game that drove Malcome to return to the game this fall semester, despite graduating from Penn this past May. After all Ivy League play was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA allowed graduate students to compete this year, an opportunity Malcome welcomed. 

“I continued to play because I love the game of football,” Malcome said. “I have been around it all my life, and I believe I can play it at a high level.”

In order to perfect his craft, Malcome takes inspiration from a range of football players.

“My inspiration on the field has multiple people put together,” Malcome said. “As a child, my dad introduced me to Barry Sanders, but as I continued to learn and watch football, certain players stood out to me like Darren Sproles, Maurice-Jones Drew, Chris Johnson, Percy Harvin, Dalvin Cook, and Tyreek Hill just to name a few. There are more, but I think there is always something to learn and refine in your game, and you can learn that by watching others and critiquing yourself.”

Family is everything is a phrase that resonates especially with Malcome, exemplified by the way it affects his game.

“My inspiration off the field is my family and my nephew,” Malcome said. “My family has been there every step of the way, and it is very nice to have them as a support system. I have never had a little brother, but that is how I see my nephew. I want to be a role model for him, so he can make the right decisions along the way for whatever he decides to do.”

Given the skills he’s acquired after years as a running back and watching his favorite football stars at work, Malcome has no intention of switching to a new position. 

“I don’t think I would [switch positions] because being a [running back] allows me to use my versatility and playmaking ability as a player,” Malcome said. “Being a [running back] gives me the opportunity to run, catch and make big plays. I can even be split out as a [wide receiver], or even still make plays in the special teams game.”

This year has been an adjustment for everyone. For Malcome, trying times means adapting to your individual circumstances and making the best of the time you have. 

“[COVID-19] definitely had a small impact on my routine, but you always have to adapt to your situation to make the best of it,” Malcome said. “[With COVID-19], it was a lot easier to manage your time, because the pace of life was decently slow, so now that we are starting to get back to a somewhat normal lifestyle, managing your time has become paramount, because time is of the essence.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was challenging on athletes everywhere, both aspiring and seasoned. To all aspiring players, Malcome encourages them to have perseverance and grit as they continue to work towards their dream. 

“I would just tell them to keep working hard and strive for what you want,” Malcome said. “Keep betting on yourself and know your worth.”

As a recent graduate, Malcome has big plans for his future, including playing in the big leagues and pursuing business opportunities out of state. 

“I want to keep playing to go to the NFL,” Malcome said. “I have worked in [New York City] before, and I have done other business ventures, but I would love to continue to play ball.”