CHARLESTON — You could say Graeson Malashevich didn’t exactly follow in his father’s footsteps.
Malashevich, the most versatile and perhaps most important player on Spring Valley High School’s Class AAA football state runner-up team, left an indelible mark on the program with his contributions all over the field.
He was a running back, receiver, wildcat formation quarterback, ace defensive back, kick returner, long snapper and holder for placekicks. He scored 29 touchdowns and threw for five more TDs as the Timberwolves turned in their first 10-0 regular season and played in the state finals for a third straight season.
About the only thing Malashevich didn’t do was kick. And that was the area in which his father, Billy Malashevich, excelled, serving as the placekicker for Marshall University from 1997-99.
“When I was growing up,” Graeson Malashevich said, “he worked with us a little bit with kicking, but my older brother liked it more than I did, so I never got into it.”
What Graeson Malashevich did get into was making life miserable for Timberwolves opponents, and from a variety of positions. For those efforts, he’s been selected as the Fulton Walker Award winner by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, which goes to the state’s top special-teams player.
The award’s namesake was a Martinsburg High School star, a West Virginia University standout and a kick return specialist in the NFL.
Malashevich averaged better than 20 yards on punt returns, bringing back two for touchdowns, and averaged more than 30 yards on kickoff returns. He piled up 2,530 all-purpose yards for Spring Valley, 662 of them on kick returns.
“I like being out there as much as I can,” Malashevich said. “I really like punt returns, because I feel like if I can get the ball in space, I can make something happen.
“Special teams can play a big part in games, as we’ve seen recently. They’re definitely (important) and sometimes special teams can be unsung. You’ve got heroes on special teams, making big-time plays in big-time games. You can win a game on special teams.”
Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess said sometimes just Malashevich’s presence on the field put his offense in profitable positions when opponents punted the ball out of bounds or pooched short kickoffs.
“The big thing for us,” Dingess said, “is we always got great field position on kickoffs and punts even if people didn’t kick to him. We tried to do some stuff with (kickoff returns) to one side of the field because a lot of people wouldn’t kick to him. So he was out there pretty much all the time for us.”
Dingess and his coaching staff recognized the fact that the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Malashevich needed an occasional break playing so many positions at the highest level of Class AAA football in the state.
“Yeah, we kept him off the kickoff team because of that,” Dingess said. “But he’s such a game-changer that you almost have to put him out there because of how he can change the game on special teams.
“He can do it all. Anything you ask him to do, he’d do it and wouldn’t say anything. He’d always volunteer, too. He’s one player everybody wishes they had. He’d get mad if you take him out. Every time he touches the ball, something good happens. He’s a big-game player.”
Malashevich’s other contributions included 890 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing, 36 receptions for 906 yards and 14 TDs, four interception returns for 71 yards and two scores, and he completed 6 of 9 passes as a wildcat quarterback for 109 yards with five touchdowns.
During playoff quarterfinal and semifinal wins against Huntington High and Capital he ran and passed for touchdowns and also caught a TD pass in each game.
He isn’t sure about his college plans yet, but he has received preferred walk-on offers from NCAA Division I programs such as Marshall, West Virginia, Penn State, Louisville and Virginia Tech. He’s also open to Football Championship Subdivision and Division II offers.
“Right now, I’m taking it slow to see if anything pops open,” Malashevich said, “and go from there. I’m open to all recruitment. I’m still looking at smaller schools around here to see what’s best for me, to see what they have to offer.”
Malashevich will receive the Walker Award during the 73rd WVSWA Victory Awards Dinner on May 5, 2019, at the Embassy Suites hotel in Charleston.