At 1-8 going into Saturday afternoon’s game at South Alabama, FIU’s season has sunk into a slog through a gutter muddied with failure and misfortune. One of the few nickels in that gutter has been the rebound season of senior running back Darian Mallary.
Mallary’s 345 yards and nine touchdowns lead FIU after he started the season third-string behind junior Kedrick Rhodes and senior Jeremiah Harden, both of whom have been battling injuries since the third week of September.
Harden is unlikely to play Saturday. Rhodes will see spot duty. Redshirt freshman Shane Coleman could get some carries.
“My goal was this year was to play,” Mallary said. “The good and bad thing about it is that I was scoring touchdowns and did what I had to do when I got in the game. But at the end of the day, we’re losing. That’s a hurtful feeling. If you ask me, I’d rather have the worst game of my life and win the game than the best game of my life and lose. I’m a team person. I’d like to see everybody happy, not just me.”
That Mallary now tops the depth chart when FIU coach Mario Cristobal saying health will determine the Panthers running back rotation represents a 180-degree swing from a year ago, when Mallary was fourth behind Rhodes, Darriet Perry and Harden while in the slow process of recovering from a broken leg.
“He made it happen in the offseason,” Cristobal said. “He made the decision he was going to have a great offseason. His bench press reps at 225 are at 20 or over 20, more than double what he’s done before. His body fat is down tremendously. He’s kept himself healthy.”
This season, Mallary’s only health issue was in his head — literally, as he sustained a concussion when hit in the first half against Louisville. That night, his family began the game with split loyalties, as Louisville sophomore cornerback Andrew Johnson is Mallary’s brother.
Mallary laughed once his mother saw him on the sideline in the second half. She said: “ ‘OK, son, I see you’re all right. Now we’re going for Louisville.’”
This is the last true road trip for the seniors. The only other road game left is Nov. 16 at FAU.
“I think we have the best relationship of any football team because most of us have played against each other from little league to high school, now we’re playing with each other in college,” Mallary said. “For this last time, us traveling as one again, it’s going to be something special. I hope we end it off on a good note. It’s been a long road for us and a disappointing year.
“We got people thinking we don’t have anything to play for, but you’ve got to play for yourself. It’s pride. It’s team pride. You don’t want to go out 1-11. We’ve got three more games left. We can go out 4-8. End on a positive note. You’ll never see the Sun Belt again.
“Some of the seniors, this is your last time playing football ever. You don’t know what’s in your future. I’m playing hard because I don’t know what’s next for me. This is my last time touching the field. I think about that every game.”