DETROIT, Mich. - Putting one foot in front of the other wasn’t always easy for fast-growing Malik McDowell.
McDowell knew he had a future in college football after winning MVP at the Toledo camp the summer heading into his sophomore year.
Just ask his father Greg McDowell’s wallet.
“He broke quite a few things, not intentionally,” the elder McDowell laughed.
Of course not.
Now the Detroit (Mich.) Loyola junior defensive lineman is one of the top football recruits in the country, but before he was taking out ball carriers and offensive linemen, he was doing damage to tables, chairs and stair railings
“He was a little clumsy, off balance,” Greg said. “As a young kid he didn’t have his coordination.
“He’d knock a lot of stuff over. When he started playing basketball, he had to find that balance and learn that you couldn’t run into kids. I had to tell him this is not football and you can’t just throw your body into people like that.”
As a freshman the 6-foot-7, 290-pound McDowell began to find his balance. He won defensive MVP at the Toledo camp heading into his sophomore year.
“That’s when everything started coming around and I started getting actual control of my body,” McDowell said. “It was really big winning MVP. That was my first camp. I didn’t think I was going to win MVP. That was my first time ever winning MVP.
McDowell was very disruptive in Loyola's victory over Cabrini on Saturday, clinching a third-straight Catholic League C-D Division Championship.
“That’s when I thought I was going to be good because I knew I was going to get an offer from Toledo. That’s when I knew I was going to go to college and play football.”
Ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 2 strong-side defensive end and by the 247Composite as the country’s No. 16 prospect overall in the class-of-2014, McDowell went on to register 67 tackles and 12.5 sacks as a sophomore in helping Loyola to a league championship. This past Saturday at Ford Field, McDowell was very disruptive, living in the Allen Park (Mich.) Cabrini backfield in leading his team to a third-straight Catholic League C-D Division Championship. In addition to Toledo, McDowell has seen scholarship offers come in from national powers like Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford and Wisconsin.
With all the football success and improvement, there is still plenty more upside regarding McDowell.
“The kid is still only 16,” Loyola head coach John Callahan said. “He has a great deal of growing still to do and his coordination is going to get better and better and the sky is the limit for him. The college level has already picked up on it.”
McDowell has come a long way off the field as well. He moved in with his father two years ago and has become a regular on the honor roll at Loyola.
“In middle school I wasn’t the best student,” McDowell said. “I wasn’t that mature. Played around a lot. Once I got to Loyola I got things together.”
He had no choice.
“We’ve always been close but having him in my home on a regular basis, as far as a young man living with his father, we have an understanding I’m the father, he’s the son,” Greg said. “The respect level is going to be on both of us. I’m going to respect him as my son and he’s going to respect me as his father. When you have that relationship with your child coming up as a young man, you can have a strong relationship. That’s what we have. It’s a talking relationship. It’s a loving relationship.
“What makes me proud is seeing him evolve,” the elder McDowell continued. “Knowing I had my handprint not being an absentee dad and being a vital part of his life. That makes me proud he’s going to be able to carry on all the talks and discipline, and understand I always wanted the best for him. He’s achieving what I always wanted him to achieve, as well as what he wanted to achieve for himself.”
McDowell has visited both Michigan and Michigan State for games this fall.
“Michigan, their tradition that’s one thing I like a lot,” McDowell said. “They’re a winning team. The fans go crazy at Michigan. One thing I like doing is the wave. It’s real fun when they get going.
“I went up to Michigan State a few times. I like (Spartans defensive end) Will Gholston. I got to talk to him a few times. I like their campus and I’ve been up there a couple times to see games.”
One place McDowell would like to see a game at before the fall ends is Notre Dame. He visited the Irish campus during the summer and had an enlightening experience.
“They showed me a lot more than what I knew about Notre Dame,” McDowell said. “I didn’t know 99 percent of their students graduated and 100 percent of their black students graduated. I like their helmets a lot. Those boys shined. I just like Notre Dame.”
Ohio State is another possible visit destination before the end of the season.
“Urban Meyer, the new coach, that’s what everyone is talking about,” McDowell said.
During the spring or summer, McDowell and his father have talked about taking a road trip to Alabama and LSU, two programs Malik really wants to see. The two McDowells have also already talked about what they’re going to be looking for in a school.
“If I like what position I’ll be playing there and if I like the school’s academics,” Malik said.
“Most important thing for me and I’m going to continue this is his education,” Greg added. “If he’s blessed enough to get to the next level and play professional football that’s a blessing. One thing he can expect out of having an education is something he’ll always have, something to fall back on and achieve with in life. The institutions that guarantee my son is going to get an education are the ones we’re going to look at and give the most credit too.”