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Episode 3 - Walk On - Ben Malcolmson

On episode 3 of Let's Engage, Jake Olson and Brendan Egan interview Ben Malcolmson about walking on the USC football team and life after college with the Seattle Seahawks.  Listen in and book Ben for speaking engagements or experiences on Engage.  


Jake Olson: Welcome to episode three of Let's Engage. I am your host Jake Olson. I have obviously my co-host Brendan Egan. With us as well our producer and technician, part time, Daniel Hennes. We are excited to bring you today a personal friend of mine for the greater part of almost 10 years now, which is this crazy to think about. He has been an influential connection in my life to both USC and the Seahawks. He's been a personal friend of mine. He is Coach Carroll’s a chief of staff, as well as an accomplished author now and speaker. So Ben Malcolmson, thank you so much for joining us.

Ben Malcolmson: Jake it's good to be with you. I think you forgot to mention Quebec. Is Quebec there too?

J: Yeah. Quebec is in the room, Quebec is in the room.  He wants this interview to go quickly because it's almost his dinnertime. But we're going to work. You can have that beef with him I guess. But alright. Ben so this whole thing starts off with you as a journalism major, and I’ve never asked you this but do you still do journalism? Like do you write at all in a journal or have you been secretly covering Coach Carroll in like your own little journal this whole time?

B: No not quite. Just kind of logging it into the mental journal there.

J: Mental journal.

B: Yeah

J: No freelancing?

B: No. I've hung up those shoes for sure.

J: All right. So you are at USC from 2004--?

B: 2002 to 07 as a student, and then worked there until 2010.

J: Right. Right. Okay. So you're there during the glory days. I mean the glory days. So how many national championship games did you go to?

B: Three of them.

J: Three of them. Ok so you went to all of them pretty much?

B:Yeah, yeah.

J: I was there at the Texas game. You know I'm still not over that.

B: Let’s not talk about that one.

J: Yes. OK we'll move on. But so you graduate, you know at that time I mean the USC team was untouchable on campus. I mean they were, kind of you know, this whole separate group. I mean you know as a player in the last four years, we still are to an extent. But even back then I mean it is a whole different level, it's like celebrity status. So like when you are a journalism major and you see this team that you know you kind of seem like there's this kind of social barrier wall. Then to be brought on that team, with now all the guys then probably all your friends are like “no way. Like what does he do? What is he like?” How was that?

B: Yeah it was crazy cause I kind of got to see behind the curtain at that point. And it was when Coach Carroll was running that team. And it was definitely just kind of this icon, not only on campus but around L.A. and around the country. I mean just the attention that was on the USC football team was off the charts. It was incredible to be on the other side of it and to really see how Coach Carroll runs his meetings and how he operated at practice, just the whole vibe around the team. I really got to see what it was really like. And it was it was unbelievable.

J: So you're a journalist major, you wanted to cover the team. Tell us exactly what went through your head when you wanted to do this project and what went through your head when you got that call from Coach Carroll that invited you onto the team your senior year?

B: Yeah well I was just trying to read a write a good story to kind of close out my career as the Daily Trojan journalist there, student reporter. And I covered the team for three years and got to every single home and away game for those three years. That was my job in college. It was unbelievable. I was living the dream and I was gearing up to graduate that spring. Spring of 06, and wanted to do one final good story. And I saw an ad in The Daily Trojan that talked about how walk on tryouts were coming up on the football team and I thought that was pretty unique. What kind of football program just does an open casting call you know? Just any student can try out. I thought that was so cool and just such a unique part of the program. So I figured I should write right about these guys that are trying out. And this is such a unique aspect that not many people knew about. And then as I was preparing for that story, it hit me that I should go through the trial kind of as a joke and give people a first person perspective. I mean I hadn't played football since fifth grade. I was a late bloomer, and grew up in Texas where football is kind of a religion there. And I was way too small to play in high school. So I didn't play from fifth grade until there I am trying out for the number one football team in the country as a senior in college. So there I am at the tryout, and I'm running a 40 yard dash for the first time in my life. Going through agility drills for the first time in my life.

J: You didn’t pull a hamstring?

B: No, thankfully I was a pretty good intramural athlete so I had that training you know. But it was going through this trial, and this was gonna be the story of a lifetime. I get to try out for the best college football team in the country. You know it was just so cool. I've got Coach Carroll yelling at me. I've Ken Norton yelling at me. I got Lane Kiffin, Sark, all these guys that ended up going on to just amazing careers. And there I am trying out just as a journalist you know. And so I go through the tryout. I go home. I'm so excited to write this story, I couldn't have found a better story than this. And I'm writing it. I got a couple of days to write it, but two days after the try out I get a phone call early in the morning saying I made the team. And it was the most shocking call ever because I'd never, never dreamed that that was possible. And never even crossed my mind like “well what if I do make a team?” Just because it's just impossible. There's no possible way I could I could do it. So my life took a turn in that moment. I get that phone call and all of a sudden...

J: You said you thought was a joke right?

B: Oh yeah. But once the initial question sank in, are you gonna be on this team? I hustled over to Heritage Hall and tried to figure out if this was legit or not. Halfway there I realized that Coach Carroll is renowned for pulling pranks.

J: Right

B: I mean he was getting Will Ferrell to show up to practice and Snoop Dogg. I mean all these guys were just like he's just pulling jokes all the time. So I'm like “well of course he's going to pull a joke on me. I’m the student newspaper reporter.” So I'm like totally gearing up for him to pull the rug out from under me. And I walk up to his office there and I’m all fully prepared for him to just point laugh at me. And he's like no this is real. We want you on the team, you can catch the ball and you can run fast. Are you in? And I was like “Coach, joke's over. Come on now.” He's like “No I'm serious.” And so there I was all of a sudden, it was legit. I was on the team. That's crazy.

J: So what was your favorite memory about that season you were in? Obviously you know that the whole movement would get better, and you can talk about that, but you know that obviously was incredible that you got in the game. But you know more, is there is there something else that kind of really sticks with you that season that you were a part of the Trojans?

B: Yeah I think I mean there's nothing better than the end at the Rose Bowl. I mean you got to experience that Jake.

J: Yeah

B: You know that game we beat Michigan that year in the Rose Bowl. And just being a part of that because I mean as a kid you're growing up, you watch football on New Year's Day.

J: Right

B: And the Rose Bowl game is the granddaddy of them all.  It is the game that everyone watches and it's kind of the Super Bowl of college football. And being there, being part of that, suiting up and being on the field. I mean it's just picture perfect. It couldn't get any better than that.

J: Yeah yeah I know especially. Still have your ring?

B: Oh yeah.

J: Oh yeah.

B: Can’t get rid of that thing. That’s amazing.

J: Oh yeah. So the play you got in, just describe that? Because for me I mean, walking out there when I when I played I mean it was incredible. Kind of actually that surreal moment of being out there but I mean like for you describe how that was?

B: Yeah. It's kind of an out of body experience. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it Jake, but it kinda feels like you're living in a movie. You know you got the crowd all around you.

J: Yeah. Yes

B: You can’t really think, you don't really know what's going on, and you're just kind of floating out there. And then before you know it it's over. And it’s like okay what the heck.

J: Yeah. It is strange. It's kind of like the dynamic of it is kind of like a dream where it's just like “oh my gosh you're doing this.” But then at the end of the day it's kind of like “OK actually we're just doing something we've done” and then it’s kind of over and you’re like “well I guess, I mean yeah that was it.”

B: It ended so quickly, you just can't even imagine. It's like wait “I wanted to kind of enjoy that a little bit more.”

J: No I know what you’re saying. So at what point did you and Coach Carroll kind of meet where you're saying “OK you know I can kind of work for you and kind of be your right hand man?”

B: Well it was funny because I ran into him on campus about a month after the Rose Bowl that year and I was going to graduate. I was in a grad program. I was going to graduate with a master's degree that spring. And just kind of ran into him just totally randomly on campus. And I was like “Hey Coach, thanks so much for let me be a part of the team. It was amazing, and I just really appreciate that opportunity.” And he's like “I’m so glad I ran into you because I had an idea I want to run by you.  Kind of an opportunity that I had you in mind for.” And he's like “come by the office sometime and I'll fill you in on it.” He had this idea to start his website that was all about the team. And this was, I mean this was in 2007. So everyone had a Web site but they weren't the way they are now. Social media took off. So you’d go to a Web site and it was generally just roster and schedule. You know that's about it. He had this idea to create a website where you're putting news out and you're bringing fans along and really bringing them on the inside. He thought I'd be a good person to run it because of my writing history and background and everything. He just kind of handed me this blank canvas and said “make this.” You know just create it and I wasn't gonna turn down that opportunity. This was the job of a lifetime. My first job out of college to work for Coach Carroll at USC, a place I loved. And coming off that football experience it was just an amazing amazing opportunity. So I started doing this and then before we knew it Facebook started to get a little bit bigger and I said “Hey Coach why don't we get you on Facebook?” Kind of as a joke, and he blew up on Facebook almost immediately. Then this thing called Twitter comes along. I said, “Coach just as a joke let's make you a Twitter page.” Because that was back when it was like only teenagers on Twitter posting about what they had for lunch. And here let's get a sixty year old football coach on Twitter and see what happens. That kind of blew up. We're having a blast. We made the USC Ripsit blog and through all this he just loved it. He loved the way that we were connecting with fans on a totally new level.

J: So were you with them every day? Were you like texting him every day? Did you meet with him once a week? Like how? What was his relationship, like how did this build up as you graduated?

B: Yes. So I would sit on the couch in the football office and with my laptop and we'd be creating this. And he'd walk by a dozen times a day and just be like “OK tell me what's the latest” and internet stuff is just evolving so rapidly at that time. And where things feel like they're changing huge steps every day. So he's just so fascinated by it and I'm like it's just so cool because we're connecting with fans a whole new way. And then he's like “well we need to get you a desk. He can't be sitting on this couch.” So we kind of created a desk in his assistant's office right outside his office door. So then he's walking by even more throughout the day and we kind of just developed a relationship through that. Just a friendship and just kind of this partnership through it all we're reading. We just were going back and forth and constantly throwing stuff out.  I’m with him all day every day. You know you just can't help but to get to know someone and how they talk. And it was really really cool and through all that three years later he goes and takes the job with Seahawks and Seattle. And asked me to come up with him and with the intent of kind of taking that model and bringing it up to Seattle. But it pretty quickly evolved into kind of being right hand there in Seattle and kind of being chief of staff type role.

J: So was it hard as 22 year old, and now obviously you know now in your 30s, like is it hard to, I know it's a weird question, was it hard to match his energy sometimes?

B: Oh man. He wears me out all the time. I can't keep up with him. He's double my age and man. I don't know how he does it because he doesn't drink caffeine. He doesn't drink coffee. He barely sleeps and it's just nonstop. And I'm like man “How do you do it? Cause I need to sleep and drink a lot of caffeine and all that.” But he wears me out for sure I can't keep up with him some days.

J: So I agree man it’s crazy. Every time I see him man, it's like are you sure you're sixty? Like let's check that birth certificate.

B: He gets younger by the year he's like Benjamin Button.

J: I know it is really weird it is. It's just incredible. Like 20 year olds feed off of it too. This is incredible.

B: It's amazing yeah.

J: So I, to be completely honest, like my first trip to Seattle when you guys went up there in 2010. When I came with my family, it was like the first time I remember I got your number that trip, and was kind of the first time I was like “oh my gosh like this guy is actually really cool.” I honestly didn't like remember a lot of talking to you at USC. What do you remember when this 12 year old kid came in?

B: Well I mean that was our last season at USC, it was 2009. It was like halfway through the season when we first had you there. But I just remember how spunky you were because there you are talking trash to like Joe McKnight. Like all these guys on the team. You're just out there your first time there, and you're talking trash on the sidelines. I was like “who is this kid? This is amazing.” Because normally we have guests come by and they're all very quiet and like docile and just like stay under the radar but here you are, 12 years old just talking smack to people. I loved it. It was awesome.

J: Yeah it was awesome. I forget who I was talking to the other day. Oh it was to Jason, he wrote that article about it. But I was I was talking about that first time I flew up to see you in 2011. It was the first time I ever flew by myself. I remember you had to talk to my mom, convince her your were like somehow not going to corrupt me up there. Even though my one and only time I've ever crashed a wedding was that that weekend with you.

B: Yeah. Well I mean we got to tell the full story on that one. We can't just say we crashed a wedding.

J: Go ahead.

B: You want me to share that story?

J: Yeah go ahead. Go ahead.

B: Well I mean my buddy Char is a wedding photographer. He was like “hey if you guys are bored tonight I'm shooting this wedding. You guys should come out.” So it's not like we totally crashed here. We just showed up at the dance party. We brought a little life and energy to the dance party and we left. You know and I mean you were star out there just breaking down the dance floor.

J: I forget what song it was to, but yeah we went a little nuts. That was fun. And that was the only time I've also eve,r that trip, ever done the Cinnamon Challenge which was awful.

B: Yeah. You haven't done it since?

J: No no no. I have not done it since. I was sitting off your balcony for like an hour.

B: I thought you were doing that like once a week these days.

J: Yeah. No, definitely definitely no. But OK so kind of that trip though, you know it was fun. We went jet skiing with Coach Carroll which was awesome, we hung out. I remember that we had a pre-season game I think on Saturday right?

B: Yeah.

J: And I was down there, we had fun together. But like Sunday morning remember we get up and we're gonna go to church but so it's something where we get up and you're like you're like “oh crap.” I'm like “what is going on?” You go “Coach Carroll is flying in somebody and he forgot his tickets or something.” You kind of like scrambled to help him get his tickets and so like how often does that happen with like where you're just like his saving grace?

B: Now he does a great job. He doesn't need me that much. Just a few things here and there. But that was a rare occasion. He's definitely on top of his game.

J: Yeah. I know I have the Daniel and he's my right hand man and I just know without him my life wouldn't function and there's there's been a couple of times where he's definitely saved my butt.

B: We all need each other. And you know like if we weren’t in this together life would be pretty boring and we'd definitely fail a lot more if we weren’t leaning on each other.

J: So what's your favorite memory up in Seattle? I mean it's crazy. Someone told me this the other day, that you know this next year Coach Carroll will be in Seattle longer than he was here at SC which is just I mean insane. But so you know the time up there, I mean obviously you won a Super Bowl. You've gone to two, one was a lot better than the other one. You know NFC championship games, you know crazy interceptions for game winning touchdowns.Like what's your memories up there man? And this is like every time I've gone up there, it's been so special. I can't imagine having the job to be up there for you know the entire season.

B: Yeah it's crazy that we're going into year 10 up here it's just wild. It seems like it's flown by and there's just so many good memories. And obviously the big ones, in the Super Bowl win in New York. And just there's been so many cool cool games. And I just I look back and I think of those kind of unpredictable finishes. It seems like there's been so many of them like the Hail Mary game back in 2012. Monday Night Football against the Packers we throw up Hail Mary. When you're when you're at the stadium you don't see the replays that the TV shows. We throw up a Hail Mary and the referee signals touchdown. We're freaking out and then it wasn't till like 45 minutes after the game and it's like oh dang there's actually kind of a controversy here. So we didn't even realize it in the moment.

J: It looked