Q&A: TJ Malone

The All-American lacrosse attacker has used smarts and resilience to become one of the nation’s best scorers.

photo of TJ Malone in the across locker room by Cardoni


Q: You’ve been through a decent amount of adversity here, including hip and hernia surgeries. How has that helped you appreciate the game more? What has it taught you?

MALONE: When you’ve played a sport since you were 6 or 7, it’s just a part of you. And you kind of take it for granted because it’s taken you so far. It brought me to getting recruited by the Haverford School, and then it brought me to Penn State. And I’ve had an amazing time. When it gets taken away from you, it feels like a part of your identity is leaving. Through that process, it made me appreciate the game so much more than I had in the past. I never realized how much I loved the game until it was taken away from me. I knew it was something I always wanted to do, but the love for the game that I have was really magnified from the game being taken away from me for a couple of years. I’m so thankful that I have had the opportunity to have the surgeries to get back to square one. It’s really helped my lacrosse, because every time I go out there, it’s never a burden. It’s just pure joy. That’s what I hope when people see me play, they see that.


Q: Did you ever think about giving it up considering all the injuries you’d been through?

MALONE: It was an option when I was going through the surgery process. Doctors told me, “You might not want to play this game anymore. It’s been tough on your body. You’re going to need these surgeries.” Even some of my family members were like, “Hey, you should think about stopping playing altogether. Focus on your career, on what you want to do after,” and I really started to take that seriously and consider quitting before my surgeries. If I quit, I wouldn’t have necessarily needed the surgeries; I could have figured out a way to do physical therapy without them. But one of my closest friends and mentors, (former All-American) Grant Ament ’20 Lib said, “Look, you’ve come this far. And I really believe that you’re going to make a big difference in this game. Stick with it and do the surgeries.” And that’s the one that had I think five surgeries in his four years at Penn State. He went through a lot himself. So hearing him say that he believed in me really fueled me to stick with it. I did the physical therapy, did the surgeries. It was a tough year. It was a grind. But the season we had last year, getting Penn State back to a Final Four, was just an amazing feeling, and I really believe this team has a chance to do something that no other Penn State team has done before and I want to be a part of that. That’s one of the biggest reasons I came back.


Q: What did you do well last year as a team that enabled you to get to the Final Four, and what will be the key to get back there and maybe even further than that?

MALONE: It’s so hard to pinpoint the thing that helped us because there’s so many things that go into it, but I think that the team last year had each other’s backs. We were so resilient. I’ve had a lot of surgeries, Jack Traynor ’22, ’23 MBA Bus had a lot of surgeries, Brett Funk had a lot of surgeries. We had a lot of seniors and fifth-years that year who had been through a lot of adversity. So I think a lot of us rallied around that and stuck to each other and had each other’s backs, and we had that identity of being a resilient team and it showed throughout the season. We were down early in a lot of games that less resilient teams probably would have just folded. But I think our identity propelled us to come back in those games and lead us to the Final Four just because we never gave up. We were down 7-1 to Princeton in the first round of the [tournament]. And our resilience as a team never flinched. It was like, OK, what’s next? Let’s go. I think that’s going to be huge for us this year; we have to keep that identity. And also we have this crazy belief in ourselves, that we’re going to do something special in this locker room and we’re very excited about it.


Q: At 6 feet, 188 pounds, you were not one of the bigger guys on the field growing up and you’re not one of the biggest guys now. What did you learn about how to score without a lot of size?

MALONE: I always viewed being a late bloomer as a blessing and I think it’s really paid dividends in my career. My dad (Mark) always told me, “Look, you’re going to grow to be the size of all these other guys or at least have the strength of these other guys. What you’re learning right now, how to score, how to be able to play off-ball, you’re learning the game at a disadvantage. And that’s going to be an advantage later in your career.” I really believed that and I think it’s dead on. I learned how to play the game undersized. I had to develop good stick skills and a good lacrosse IQ. I wasn’t beating anyone off the dodge, but I was able to out think defenders and play off ball better. I kind of compare it to when Wayne Gretzky was growing up. He would play with the older groups. Other guys were bigger and stronger than him, but he was so smart and he had learned how to play the game with older guys that propelled his IQ and his quickness. It made him a great goal scorer. I kind of use that as motivation.


Q: Switching gears, how did you wind up as a whitewater rafting guide in Colorado and what was that experience like?

MALONE: It’s a long story, but it was right after COVID. I had an internship lined up for that summer but it was going to be completely virtual. My mom had connected randomly with the owner of a whitewater rafting shop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They always needed workers. We moved out there seven of us, lived in a two bedroom house. Two of my teammates from Penn State—Dan Reaume ’22 Lib and Malcolm Glendinning ’21 Lib—and my sister, my girlfriend, and two other friends. We were whitewater rafting guides all summer. That was another reset for me for lacrosse. When I moved out there, I needed a mental break from lacrosse because I was going through the hip problems, but I didn’t have any answers so I was getting very frustrated. Moving out there I think helped me gain a new perspective. When I got back to school, I knew I needed to get help, that this hip stuff wasn’t going to go away. We coached out there, played in a couple tournaments. Seeing the game from a different perspective, something that I love to do versus something that I have to do, changed my mentality going into my senior year.


Q: You’re a finance major. What do you like about it?

MALONE: I always knew I wanted to do something in business. My dad worked on Wall Street and he would bring me up to the office sometimes. I loved the competitive nature and the hustle and bustle. I don’t know if finance will be my career forever, but I do know I want to be a businessman in some way. I’m going into investment banking at TD Cowen next year. I think the skills I’m going to learn from that will be instrumental in helping me do whatever later in life, and maybe I will love finance when I get into it. But I know that if I can learn a ton at an early age, it’ll set me up well for my career.


Q: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

MALONE: I think my superpower would be to fly at superfast speeds. Being able to soar like an eagle and see everything.


Q: What would be the last meal you would eat if you knew it was your last meal?

MALONE: I would eat lamb chops. My family makes amazing lamb chops when we grill out. That’s my birthday meal or Christmas dinner meal every year.


Q: What’s your favorite movie?

MALONE: That’s a good question. Can I get back to you on that? I have my favorite book. It’s Endurance, about [explorer] Ernest Shackleton. I read it when I was going through my hip surgeries. They overcame all odds. They get trapped in an iceberg in Antarctica and have to pull off this impossible trip back home and Ernest Shackleton got everyone on his ship back safely. I always thought if this guy can do that, I can overcome these surgeries.


Q: See, now that’s a better answer than if you would have had a favorite movie off the top of your head.

MALONE: (laughs)


Q: What is your least favorite workout or practice drill?

MALONE: This might be controversial, but the Panzer mile that we do. Five laps around our field. They pair you with someone who has similar speed to you, and it’s mano a mano. Someone has to win, and whoever loses has to do another lap. That’s a tough one. That’s a staple to our program. I love it, but I also hate it.