WEST LIBERTY - When Nate Maleski enrolled at West Liberty University, he really didn't know what position he wanted to play for the Hilltoppers' football team.
After all, he was a two-time, first-team Division VI all-stater during his high school days at Bridgeport.
What is more impressive is that the 6-2, 270-pounder was all-state on both sides of the ball, earning honors on offense as a junior tackle and defense as a senior down lineman.
After three years of playing guard, fullback in goalline situations, and a little tight end, the now 300-pounder has settled in at nose guard.
"It took me a couple of years, but I think I finally grasped what I'm good at, and I have grown into my position," he said last week prior to a training camp session on the Route 88 hilltop in preparation for the Sept. 7 opener at Catawba (N.C.).
"Defense comes more natural to me," he added with a smile. 'It's always nice to try and score (on offense) and get into the limelight, but whatever the coaches call on me to do, I'll try and do my best."
It didn't take him long to make an impression as a junior in the middle of the Hilltoppers' stop crew, earning honorable mention in the West Virginia Conference in its last season of existence. It is now called the Mountain East Conference.
Maleski started all 11 games as the nose guard or a defensive tackle, charting 40 tackles, nine tackles for losses and a team-best 4.5 quarterback sacks. He also recovered a pair of fumbles and hurried the quarterback once.
"We had to convince him to move to defense," Hilltoppers' head coach Roger Waialae quickly noted. "When I recruited him, I kept telling him he was a defensive player, but he fought me for a year. Basically, what happened was, our starting nose guard went down with a knee injury, and finally it kind of forced him to play defense. I told him, 'I need you over there.'
"For some reason, he always wanted to play offense. I don't know why. But I do know that he would have been a starter no matter where he played," Waialae added.
"The bottom line is: he finally realized he's had some success there. Not just token success here and there. He was dominant."
Dominant enough to be named the 25th annual USA College Football NCAA II Pre-season All America team, one of four Hilltoppers to earn that lofty honor.
Maleski admitted to feeling all kind of emotions when he was informed of the prestigious honor.
"I was surprised and shocked at the same time, but it was definitely a great feeling," he offered. "Definitely some big expectations for me. I just want to build upon my success of last year, and hopefully, I'll continue to get better."
His recipe for success has been plain and simple.
"Hard work. I came in here not expecting to play much," he explained. "I just wanted to work hard every day and see what happened. I just worked hard and tried to get better each season."
As for personal goals, "I'd like to be first team all-american on the field and an academic all-american off the field," he said.
As a team, "We always want to win. Being the first season in a new conference we want to come out and win that first championship, and hopefully get a playoff berth."
If they do, Maleski will definitely be in the middle of things.
Next week, the remaining Ohio Valley products will be featured.