NASHVILLE – Josh Malone was a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football winner in 2013.
During his senior year at Station Camp High School in Gallatin, he was also once WKRN-Channel 2's Player of the Week, an award sponsored by the Titans.
"Kendall Wright was there," a smiling Malone said of the former Titans receiver. "I still remember going to the stadium, and I think it was coach (Mike) Munchak at the time. I shook his hand, and I talked a little bit with Kendall Wright. It was cool being around a professional player, and kind of getting that taste back then.
"I always had aspirations as a young kid to play as a pro."
Fast-forward to today, and Malone is now a Titan.
The former University of Tennessee star, in fact, has enjoyed quite an offseason after signing with the team back in February.
When training camp begins next month, he'll look to build on the momentum with hopes of sticking on the 53-man roster for 2022.
"I can tell you that I am ecstatic about the progress he's made and really his development and where he's at right now," Titans receivers coach Rob Moore said of Malone. "At the end of the day, we all know this game is about what you do with the pads on. If he can take what he's done here and do it in training camp, he's going to have a leg up for sure."
Malone, who is now 26 years old, played for the Bengals in 2017-2018 before spending time with the Jets (2019–2020), Broncos (2021) and Packers (2021). Malone spent time on the practice squads of the Broncos and Packers.
Malone (6-3, 205) has played in 26 career NFL games, and he has 11 catches for 91 yards in those contests. He last played in four games with the Jets in 2020, when he caught four passes for 16 yards.
Titans General Manager Jon Robinson said earlier this offseason he liked Malone coming out of the University of Tennessee, and he wanted to give him a chance.
"He has bounced around a little bit," Robinson said of Malone, a fourth-round pick of the Bengals in the 2017 NFL Draft. "We worked him out last offseason, and we talked about putting him on the practice squad and ending up holding on that back then. But I thought he had a good workout, and he'll compete. And he's from right up the road.
"He was worthy of a chance to be able to come in and create competition at that position. You can never have enough receivers for training camp. So, I'm looking forward to watching him compete. We'll let them all compete, let the dust settle, and see where it goes."
Malone has competed well.
Throughout OTAs and the team's minicamp, Malone regularly made plays.
He got open deep, and he went up high to make plays in the end zone.
Along the way, Malone said his confidence has grown.
"This whole process is about getting better each day and also building a chemistry with the quarterbacks, and just being open to learning," Malone said. "I feel like as you continue to make plays, it's just natural for your confidence to grow. I just take it day-by-day and come in with the same mindset every day to get better and keep making plays. All I want to do is come out here and keep making plays. I feel like if I keep doing that, I feel like I have an excellence chance to be here."
Being back in Tennessee, and practicing on NFL fields located not far from where he grew up, makes things extra special.
Now, Malone wants to stick around.
He's loving the opportunity, and plans to make the most of it.
"It doesn't happen often where guys get to go home to their hometown get to go home and play in front of their family and friends," said Malone, who caught 104 passes for 1,608 yards and 14 touchdowns in 39 career games at UT. Malone had 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Vols in 2016.
"Some dreams do come true. When I was growing up, the Titans were my favorite team. … So, this is a special opportunity, and I'm going to do everything I can to make this team."