Herd safety Malik Gant declares for NFL Draft

January 11, 2019
Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Marshall's Malik Gant (29) stops Charlotte running back Ishod Finger on a carry during a C-USA football game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va. The Thundering Herd would defeat the 49ers, 30-13.

HUNTINGTON - Since Marshall safety Malik Gant was 5 years old, he had a goal of playing in the National Football League one day.

That dream appeared to stall out of high school in Washington, D.C., when Gant had no Division I offers and opted to walk on at Marshall University.

However, Gant’s pursuit of that dream has continued as he showcased an aggressive style of play from his safety spot that turned him from a virtually unknown walk-on in 2015 to a Jim Thorpe Award candidate and Marshall’s Most Valuable Player in 2018.

Now, Gant is preparing to tackle his biggest goal yet.

Gant confirmed on Wednesday evening that he will forgo his senior season with the Thundering Herd and declare for the 2019 NFL Draft.

“It was having your dreams right in front of you,” Gant said of the decision. “That was the major thing for my part. Since I was 5 years old, this has been my main goal, and for it to be attainable, coming from being a walk-on where you have no clue of what your future has waiting for you, to put in all the hard work and have this all right in front of you after two good seasons with our team, it’s a blessing.

“There’s a lot of decisions that became a part of it - from the standpoint of leaving the fans and teammates because you’ve been with them for four years, but then, being able to go and complete a dream that you’ve always had your entire life.”

The announcement means that Gant is looking to become the second player to go from H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., to Marshall University to the NFL. The other was former Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003.

While Leftwich’s draft status was solidified, Gant’s draft stock is anything but cemented.

Gant’s aggressive style of play stood out on film to those around the NFL who offered feedback, and his ability to get into the backfield as a disruptive run-stopper from his safety spot is one aspect that is attractive.

Those talents were on full display this season as Gant finished with 95 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and a sack, while adding eight pass breakups and two interceptions. Those numbers made Gant the only player in FBS with 90 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions and five pass breakups, and also earned him several distinctions, including being a Second Team All-American, as named by Pro Football Focus, and a member of the Conference USA First-Team defense.

In the NFL, however, that style of aggressive play comes against athletes who are elite in size, strength and speed, and size was one concern that was voiced when teams gave Gant their analysis.

Gant is listed on Marshall’s roster at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, but he is more likely to be around the 190-pound mark.

“Most of the things that they wanted me to improve on were weight-wise, and goals, as far as build and certain attributes, were attainable,” Gant said. “It really helped me to make the decision as to whether I wanted to come back or declare for the draft. It pushed me more toward declaring for the draft.”

Gant will train at Applied Science and Performance Institute (ASPI) in Tampa, Florida, which puts a strong team around him as he gets set to join Marshall’s seniors for their Pro Day workout in March.

At ASPI, Gant will train under Yo Murphy, the director of sports performance, and his defensive backs coach will be Dexter Jackson, a former Super Bowl XXXVII MVP with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Gant plans on taking the same approach that he did when he came to Marshall as an unheralded walk-on and built himself into a leader on and off the field.

Gant said his journey is important not only for himself, but also for him to continue to be an inspiration to those who have taken the path as a walk-on to follow their dreams.

“For me to be able to go to that next level and take that next step just gives everyone coming up in the future and those at Marshall who are walk-ons an extra push to do that,” Gant said. “You can’t put words on how special that is.”

The NFL Draft is scheduled for April 25-27 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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