MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Malachi Ruffin’s college football story is far from the norm. He wasn’t the highly touted recruit fans dream of their school getting. Coming out of Nash Central High School, the North Carolina native was considered a “no-star” recruit.
That meant Ruffin was the one doing the dreaming, dreaming of playing college football one day. Somewhere. Anywhere.
Anywhere became West Virginia University.
“Nobody recruited him. [He] came to West Virginia because he wanted to be a Mountaineer,” his position coach ShaDon Brown said Monday. “Came out for the school tryout when school started, came out and ran. And the previous staff brought him on to the team.”
Ruffin’s college football career — which could have never happened — officially began with that tryout on Aug. 20, 2018. He then sat and waited for two full seasons, finally stepping on the field for the first time in a game in the 2020 season opener against Eastern Kentucky. He recorded his first collegiate tackle a month later in a win over Kansas.
Ruffin primarily played on special teams in 2020 and 2021.
“He did an unbelievable job. And I basically explained to him, his only opportunity was special teams,” said Brown. “He is fast. He’s a 4.4 (forty-yard dash) guy. He can really run, and his opportunity was going to be on special teams. And he did a great job; earned a scholarship because of special teams.”
The Nashville, North Carolina, native earned that scholarship in August 2021 — nearly three years to the day after his initial tryout with the Mountaineers. He finished that season with 10 total tackles. While he played in 11 games and was on the field for more than 200 plays, Ruffin saw just 33 snaps on defense.
Ruffin’s college football career turned a new chapter in 2022. He became a consistent role player in the back end of WVU’s defense, primarily playing at safety.
Then came Thursday, Oct. 13. A home night game against Baylor.
“Had not had a rep at corner for probably three weeks,” Brown said. “We were down to our fourth or fifth guy, and we were thin as nickel soup as far as who we had. So, I go over and say, ‘Malachi, you got to go man.’ And he didn’t bat an eye, he was kind of blinking like, ‘At safety?’ I said, ‘No, bro. You got to go [play] corner.'”
Ruffin finished the game with three tackles, and proved to the coaching staff that he was ready to take on a bigger role. He started four of the final six games of the season following his performance against the Bears. His signature play was a pick-six against Kansas State.
However, the play Ruffin was involved in that many outside the program will remember didn’t go his way. Instead, he landed on Sports Center’s Not Top 10 plays for prematurely celebrating what he thought was a pass breakup and became a 32-yard pass play for Oklahoma State.
“He did a great job of coming back after that,” said Brown. “The last drive of the game, they threw the ball at him three straight times, and he made three straight plays, and if he don’t make them we don’t win.”
Fast forward to this year, and Ruffin is in a battle to be one of West Virginia’s starting cornerbacks. Brown related the redshirt junior to Flex Seal because he can plug any hole on the defense.
“Steady Eddy,” as Brown referred to him on Monday, could see time at corner and deep safety this fall, his sixth in the program.
It has been a bumpy path on Ruffin’s college football journey, but the former no-star walk-on is now running against some of the best players in the nation.