For the last couple of seasons, the faces of the Aggie running game belonged to Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. Both ran with different styles but created the same results when it came to moving the ball down the field. Gray, in his time as an Aggie, ran with patience and vision. He shifted and waited for a hole to open, then burst into top gear when the opportunity was presented. Michael runs with sheer blunt force. No matter what develops, he will bulldoze his way through because, well, he’s stronger and better than you. The two made for an exciting and reliable tandem in the A&M backfield.
But when the Texas game rolled around last year, both went down with injuries and the Ags turned a third-string sophomore from Cedar Hill, Ben Malena. He ran for a respectable 83 yards on 25 carries along with a seven-yard touchdown reception. Not bad numbers by any means, but when it came to look forward to this season, the general consensus believed Michael would return to be the workhorse of the Aggie backfield. On top of it all, A&M signed Trey Williams, a five-star recruit who matched up equally with Johnny Manziel in terms of excitement and YouTube montages. Once again, it seemed Malena would be lost in the shuffle all over again.
But Malena did not budge; he simply took advantage of every opportunity given to him on the football field—and that included more than rushing attempts. When Malena was getting carries, he thwarted off linebackers and defensive ends from getting to Johnny Football. When he wasn’t in the backfield, he was making tackles on the kickoff team. No matter what role Malena’s asked to play, he has thrived in every opportunity given to him. His hard work saw its biggest payoff when he rushed for a career-high 132 yards against Ole Miss. Though Head Coach Kevin Sumlin and staff still reiterate that the running game goes by committee between Malena, Michael and Williams, #1 has emerged as the trio’s top back.
“"He is what you want to coach and why you get into coaching,” Offensive Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury stated during A&M’s weekly press conference, “He has great energy on the sidelines. He's a team guy and sat around and waited for his time to play. He's definitely the type of player you want on your team."
Aggie fans, as well as Aggie opponents, were introduced to Malena’s “energy” during A&M’s season opener against the Florida Gators. In Gator territory, Ben took a carry up the middle and safety Josh Evans standing in his way. What happened next resulted in a resounding “OHHHH!” from the Kyle Field stands. Malena went truck-stick on Evans, and the Gator safety left the game with a shoulder injury. Since that moment, Malena has proven to be the most dependable of running back trio, scoring four touchdowns in three games with two of them being over fifty yards. The hype and attention may go to Johnny Football but it’s Malena who may be pivotal if the Ags want to be a serious contender in the SEC.