Story of Dolphins pick Hunt inspired UL commit Maillho
As he watched the 2020 NFL Draft unfold back in April, Mackey Maillho saw one Ragin’ Cajun offensive lineman, Robert Hunt, go in the second round to the Miami Dolphins, and another, Kevin Dotson, go in the fourth round to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The draft developments spoke volumes to Maillho, a 6-foot-8, 364-pounder from Mandeville High.
And when he gave his non-binding verbal commitment to the Ragin’ Cajuns back in late July, you can bet your bottom dollar the picks were registered firmly in Maillho’s memory bank.
“That helped a lot,” Maillho said of how the draft influenced his pledge to play for the Cajuns.
“Knowing they can produce NFL linemen, and they have more coming in the next three years, it shows that they have the ability to train them and develop them.
“And hopefully that knowledge they hold,” he added, “can help me get to the next level.”
A LOADED LINE
UL is loaded on the offensive line again in 2020, with Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman All-American O’Cyrus Torrence — the 6-5, 332-pound guard who started 13-of-14 games as a true freshman — leading the cast that was back when preseason camp opened for the Cajuns back on Aug. 7.
Starting right tackle Max Mitchell and starting center Shane Vallot also return, while guard Ken Marks, who was starting before going down with knee injury that cost him most of a last season, and former starting center Cole Prudhomme, who has been getting reps at guard as well after losing all of last season due to knee surgery, both are back too.
UL also added former Arizona State starter Zach Robertson, a 6-6, 298-pounder who has been working at left tackle since camp opened.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran players in that room,” UL coach Billy Napier said last Wednesday. “We also have a lot of young talent.
“That’s a deep room, and a room that we’re really excited about. I think we’ve evaluated, and I think we recruited well there to go along with inheriting some really good players.
“I think the previous staff did an exceptional job of evaluating and recruiting offensive linemen,” added Napier, who is heading into his third season with the Cajuns. “And then we’ve done a really good job of kind of continuing that trend.”
Hunt, Dotson, Prudhomme, Marks and former walk-on Vallot were all recruited and coached by the staff of former Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth, including ex-UL offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue, a former Southern Mississippi and South Alabama assistant who earlier this year, after a couple seasons coaching at Spanish Fort High in Alabama, was named offensive line coach at Colorado of the Pac-12.
Rodrigue’s list of former Cajuns offensive linemen during his seven seasons at UL also include brothers Daniel and Mykhael Quave, both of whom where named to the preseason watch list for Lombardi Award in 2014.
Now it’s up to Napier and current UL offensive line coach Rob Sale, who doubles as the Cajuns’ offensive coordinator, to carry on the strong tradition.
They got a good start by landing signees including Mitchell, a junior from Neville High, and Torrence, a product of St. Helena High.
The work continues with the recruiting of Maillho, the lone lineman on either side of the ball among UL’s current eight-member Class of 2021 commits.
'HE WAS BUILT LIKE ME'
As much as what UL has now, Maillho was particularly impacted by the inspiring draft story of Hunt, a late-blooming lineman from tiny Burkeville High in Texas who — although he didn’t have much of a football background at all — decided, at the behest of a high school coach, to take part in a camp that cost $30 to attend.
Hunt’s father, as the story goes, toiled hard to raise $22 of the fee, and that was enough to get Hunt in.
Before he left Burkeville, Hunt had an offer of his own from the Cajuns — and now he has parlayed that into NFL rookie riches.
“He was built like me,” said Maillho, who is huge for high school but still has some sculpting to do before he is FBS college-ready.
“He was sort of like a project, and they turned him into a dominating beast. And hopefully that can be me.”
Maillo, who still is being actively recruited by Tulane of the American Athletic Conference, was offered by fellow Sun Belt Conference member South Alabama, independent New Mexico State and both Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana of the FCS Southland Conference.
The big fella didn’t start playing football until the seventh grade, when he was attending junior high in Madisonville.
Upon at arrival at Mandeville, Maillho was flipped from the defensive line to the offensive line.
“I think the coach and I both realized that with my stature, it fits that I play o-line,” said Maillho, who was recruited as a tackle but plays guard in high school because it’s the best fit for Mandeville’s offense.
It made sense.
Maillho was gigantic, and — truth be told — always has been.
You name the grade, and he always was the largest one in it.
And that’s just fine by him.
“I have always been the biggest each year,” Maillho said. “I love it. Love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
'I WORRY A LOT'
Being big, though, is one thing.
Doing something with his large frame is another, though, and Maillho has been working to ensure he does.
There’s baby fat to shed, and lean mass to add.
He’s grown 3-to-4 inches and put on about 40 pounds since his freshman season in high school, but after dropping 7 percent body fat over the past year, that includes an added 25 pounds of muscle.
It’s paid in the weight room, too, as Maillho recently joined the 500-pound squat club.
Now he looks forward to soon getting into what he calls the “massive” weight room at UL.
Maillho also envisions changing his build, much like Hunt did throughout his Cajun career.
“With the nutritionist there and the body test they do to figure out what needs to be done,” Maillho said, “I definitely I have more of my body I can transform.”
First, though, there is — he hopes — one last high school season to play.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has infected more than 5.2 million and killed more than 167,000 in the United States alone has wreaked havoc for teams at all levels including high school and college, canceling the season for some, postponing it for some and putting it in peril for so many others.
Maillho desperately wants Mandeville to play.
Only time will tell, however, if the Skippers actually can.
“I worry a lot,” Maillho said, “because I’ve worked endless hours — blood, sweat and tears — for this final season.
“And in order for me to show everybody that I’m not just big, and I don’t just ‘take up space,’ I need this senior season to show that I’m actually a football player.”