On the morning his son and namesake signed to play college football, Karl Malone cried.
“Like a baby,” he says. “I’m not going to lie.”
Malone, of course, spent 18 seasons as a tough-as-nails power forward with the Utah Jazz. A Hall of Famer and 14-time All-Star, he remains the No. 2 scorer in NBA history.
Karl Malone Jr. — also known as K.J. — is a senior at Cedar Creek High School in Ruston, La. He was one of the top football recruits in the country before signing last week with LSU.
The entire family attended the news conference called to announce K.J. Malone’s final decision, which created a whirlwind of emotions for his parents.
“The first thing I thought about,” Karl Malone said, “was the day he was born. Then I thought about the day he started playing football.”
Then, the tears.
Recalling what she felt during her son’s signing ceremony, Kay Malone said, “We had never been through the [recruiting] process and, to finally have it end, it was like a weight lifted off our shoulders. …
“I remembered all the work K.J. put in — all the long nights, when we talked to him about winning and losing and everything else. It was just very emotional for everybody.”
K.J. Malone is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound offensive lineman who played football and basketball into junior high. But he knew “by fourth grade” that pancaking defensive linemen would be the focus of his future.
“I’m just very blessed,” said K.J. Malone, who is as soft-spoken as his father is gregarious.
“I’m ecstatic he’s playing football, not basketball,” Karl Malone said. “With his last name, it’s already going to be a little unfair. And if he was playing basketball, what could he have done to change that?”
After not playing much as a high school freshman, K.J. Malone slowly emerged into a three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com. He was considered one of the top 35 prospects in football-rich Louisiana and was recruited by schools throughout the country, including Utah.
“Those [coaches] were great,” Karl Malone said. “It just didn’t work out.”
When the family visited LSU nearly a year ago, his parents came away secretly hoping their son would choose the school, located only 220 miles from Ruston.
K.J. Malone obliged by giving Tiger coach Les Miles a nonbinding oral commitment in March.
“When we met the coaching staff and the network people at LSU,” Karl Malone said, “we knew right away that was where we wanted him to go. We didn’t say anything. He had to make up his own mind. But we knew.”
Karl Malone attended Louisiana Tech, so the jump to becoming an LSU fan creates a mild dilemma.
“I haven’t started wearing any LSU stuff yet,” he said, laughing. “I’m going to ease into it.”
At LSU, K.J. Malone is part of a recruiting class that has been ranked among the top 10 by every scouting service and college football website.
The Tigers’ class was rated fifth by Scout.com, sixth by Yahoo! and seventh by ESPN.com.
ESPN rated K.J. Malone as the No. 23 offensive guard prospect in the country, although his new coaches plan to move him to center.
“Wherever they want to put me,” he said. “Wherever they think I can help the team most.”
On signing day, Miles told reporters that the offensive linemen he recruited — including Malone — give this class a chance to be special.
He laughed about recruiting a player from little Ceder Creek, a private school with a kindergarten-through-12th grade enrollment of 600 located in the rural northern Louisiana.
“Cedar Creek High School is not necessarily a place we visit all the time,” Miles said. “But we have to go in there for talented men — and that’s [Malone]. He’s a guy … that is very explosive and athletic.”
K.J. Malone’s football journey moved forward last week — on a morning his father and mother will always remember.
“I told him, ‘Your last name is going to be a blessing and a curse. You need to decipher the difference and be your own man,’ ” Karl Malone said.
“’Everybody doesn’t like your dad and not everybody is going to like you. But never fight your dad’s battles. Fight your own battles, stay humble and enjoy what’s happening to you.’”
One of Kay Malone’s fondest memories of signing day will be watching the reaction of her husband as K.J. Malone put pen to paper.
“Karl was so proud,” she said. “He’s been proud before — of winning games with the Jazz and winning the MVP [award]. But to see him watch his son get a scholarship, there was just such a different look on his face. I’ve never seen it before.”
• Karl Malone spent 18 years with the Utah Jazz and is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
• K.J. Malone is the son of Karl and Kay Malone. He officially signed last week to play football at LSU.
• K.J. Malone is an offensive lineman who was widely recruited. Among his suitors: the University of Utah.