May 14, 2010
Senior javelin thrower Matt Maloney's life has been all about transition.
At first, the Providence, R.I., native had no intention of trying track and field. In high school, he had dreams of playing college football.
But during his sophomore year at the LaSalle Academy, Maloney's older brother, James, became the first member of his family to compete in track.
"I was looking for something to do in the spring season," Maloney said. "I was mostly a football guy back then. But my brother told me to go out for track because it'd be a good way to stay in shape."
LaSalle was glad he tried his hand at track. In fact, Maloney still holds the Rhode Island state record for the high school javelin throw. Since then, track and field has become a family affair. James went on to become a hammer thrower at Ole Miss, and Maloney's twin sister, Megan, threw the hammer at the University of Oregon.
Maloney, too, began his collegiate career at the Oregon.
"My hammer coach in high school knew the Oregon throws coach really well," Maloney said. "So that's how that connection was made."
Maloney and Megan went on an official campus visit to Oregon during their senior year of high school. While Megan found a home there (she graduated from UO last year), Maloney didn't feel it was the best fit for him.
"For me, it was kind of a mistake," Maloney said. "There were just some differences in opinion on technique with the coaches, and I needed to find somewhere else after my freshman year. But I ended up in a great spot at Tennessee."
And he came to UT with good reason. Then, Bill Webb was the head coach of the track and field team. Webb had previously coached Maloney's high school coach, Tom Petranoff. Petranoff is a former world-record holder in the javelin throw.
"When I decided I wanted to leave (Oregon), I spoke to Petranoff and asked him where I should go," Maloney said. "Without hesitation, he told me to go to Tennessee with Bill Webb."
Maloney said he feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to throw for UT.
"Coach Webb really made it easy for me to come here, and it's really worked out as best as I could hope for," Maloney said.
When Webb retired last year, Maloney said throws coach John Frazier helped to provide a smooth transition.
"Coach Frazier's been really understanding about incorporating last year's stuff in terms of training into this year's stuff I've been doing all along," Maloney said. "You get some coaches who are really egotistical. They don't want to hear anything except for what they're doing. But Coach Frazier's really made the transition easy, and I'm really thankful for what he's done."
As a senior, Maloney believes it is his responsibility to help his coaches with underclassmen.
"Coach has a lot of stuff to do. He has a lot of athletes. So I always try to help out just in terms of training techniques and stuff," Maloney said. "I've been lucky to have a lot of good coaches. A lot of people have helped me out, so I try to do the same for them."
Last season turned out to be a trying one for Maloney. Just before the 2009 campaign, he suffered a fracture in his back that left him in a brace for six weeks and forced him to redshirt.
"It just started off small - kind of a nagging injury. And I just ignored it," Maloney said. "So it kept getting worse and worse. And then one day at practice, we were throwing and I could feel it just go."
Maloney said his injury forced him to change his perspective.
"Not being able to throw for a complete season helped me focus a lot more in the fall because I knew what I was missing out on," Maloney said. "I've always been really focused when it comes to track. It's something I really love to do. That injury just kind of narrowed it a lot more."
Focus isn't really a problem for Maloney. He's an ecology and evolutionary biology major and a two-time honoree on the SEC Honor Roll. His interest in ecology, however, came by accident. During his freshman year, Oregon offered a discount to students who enrolled in a class before 8 a.m. As a result, he arbitrarily took a 7:30 a.m. ecology class and fell in love with the subject.
"So then when I transferred to Tennessee and found out they had an ecology program, I was pretty pumped," Maloney said.
Maloney's father, Paul, is a college professor, and his mother, Janet, is a high school teacher. They have stressed the importance of education throughout their children's lives. Maloney's oldest sister already has a Master's degree, and two of his siblings are currently pursuing one. After his track career, he, too, hopes to earn a graduate degree and said his dream job is to conduct research in his field.
But before all that, Maloney has some business he would like to take care of. He said earning All-America honors in 2007 has been his shining accomplishment. However, he is determined to walk away with an SEC championship before graduation.
"This is my last year, and it's on my home track," Maloney said. "I've got a good chance to win it. And I really want to win it."
Maloney, who ranks second in the SEC with a season-best mark of 230 feet, 11 inches, will compete in the javelin finals at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Tom Black Track at LaPorte Stadium on the UT campus.
Single day tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for age 13 to college students (with I.D.).