Many will remember Ryan Mallett as arguably the greatest quarterback in Arkansas football history. For one grieving mother, though, he was much more than that.
Entering his second season as the head coach at White Hall High, Mallett was a confidant for Shaneisha Robinson, whose son was shot and killed on May 18.
The 18-year-old was also a player for Mallett, who took his death hard. As neighbors, he would visit Ben Redix and his mother often and, in an interview with KARK 4 News, Robinson said those visits didn’t stop after Redix’s passing.
“Sometimes he would come over here crying or I’d go over there crying,” Robinson said. “He looked out for me.”
Mallett even let her know about his trip to Florida — one from which he’d never return, as he drowned in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. He wanted Robinson to know he was there for her even if he was out of town.
The Open-Heartedness of Ryan Mallett
Although his maturation in recent years is well-documented, that trait of Mallett — being there for those who need him — is one that he’s had for a while.
Former Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who was Mallett’s backup before taking over the starting job, remembered that aspect of him during an interview on The Morning Rush, the morning radio show on ESPN Arkansas.
“Sure, there’s moments and we’re all flawed and have our own imperfection,” Wilson said. “But there was nobody that was a teammate of Ryan Mallett that couldn’t say that he would give them everything in the moments we needed it.”
Like Robinson, but in a much more insignificant scenario, Wilson benefited from the open-heartedness of Mallett.
During the epic showdown with Auburn in 2010, which featured a pair of Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Mallett, the latter was knocked out of the game just before halftime.
In the locker room, even with the disappointment of having to leave such a big game, Mallett gave Wilson his full support and continued to do so on the sideline until the end of what proved to be a 65-43 loss.
“What I remember is Ryan looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Go get them, man,’ and he gave me a high-five,” Wilson said. “You can determine the heart of a person by how they react in their own situation and that’s not the circumstance Ryan wanted, that wasn’t the outcome that he wanted.
“(He was) high-fiving me every step along the way and I will never forget that, his support as a teammate in that moment.”
Ryan Mallett as a Leader
Wilson wasn’t the only Razorback quarterback Mallett inspired.
Two years before that 2010 Auburn game, during the redshirt season that Mallett sat out after transferring from Michigan, he helped rally the troops in a game that would set the tone for the rest of Bobby Petrino’s tenure at Arkansas.
In Little Rock, Arkansas entered halftime against LSU down 23-14 having lost the momentum toward the end of the first half. Casey Dick, then the starting quarterback, faced an uphill battle but Mallett knew his teammates overcome the dire situation.
“He literally came up in the locker room and said ‘We’re going to go into this thing, and you’re going to play second half, and we’re going to win the game'” Dick recalled in an interview with 5 News. “There was little moments like that where he would go around the locker room, pick guys up.”
Mallett’s prediction proved true with what would go down as the Miracle on Markham II, one of the Hogs’ most memorable wins in War Memorial Stadium history.
At another point in his redshirt year, Mallett helped roll out the cardinal red carpet for someone who wasn’t even going to make the Arkansas football team. A former staffer recalls joking around with Mallett that whole off season “and he kept telling me how he was going to tear it up the next season. Coolest thing that happened during that time period was coach [Bobby Petrino] letting my brother (who wasn’t being recruited) come up on a recruiting visit,” cam21 shared on Hogville.net. “Ryan was around and treated him like a 5-star prospect and even spent time throwing him routes on the field.”
Broderick Green, another one of Mallet’s teammates, recalled how supportive the 6’7″ Arkansas native was once he get onto the field that fall.
“I really almost broke down into tears” looking through old pictures, Green told 5 News. “Every touchdown was scored, he’s always in the back with his hands up. Every time, he’s running down. He’s one of the first guys, if not the first guy, ready to celebrate with you.”
An Impact Beyond the Field
Wilson also shared that Mallett served as a “bridge” for what was a “polarizing disconnect in the locker room” as the Razorbacks shifted from the Houston Nutt era to the Bobby Petrino era.
That — along with his leadership abilities as a quarterback — helped guide the Razorbacks to heights never before experienced since joining the SEC in 1992.
“He had great courage,” Petrino said in an interview on 103.7 The Buzz. “That’s one of the things we lack in our society right now, is the courage to lead, the courage for young men to be able to tell other young men, ‘This is how we’re going to do it and this is the right way to do it.’ Ryan was very, very courageous and helped everybody get on the same page.”
More important than his 18-8 record as a starter, 7,493 passing yards and 62 touchdown passes, though, was what he was doing more than a decade removed from wearing an Arkansas football uniform.
Following a stint as an offensive coordinator at Mountain Home, Mallett was hired as the head coach at White Hall High School, just outside of Pine Bluff. He led the Bulldogs to a 4-6 record in his first season and had his sights set on more success in Year 2.
However, his impact off the field and in the community was far greater than anything he could have achieved on the field. That was evident in his relationship with Shaneisha Robinson and her late son, Ben Redix, but it was only going to grow had his life not been tragically cut short.
“I really feel bad for his players there,” Petrino said. “They’re going to miss him. His contagious personality and contagious energy is something that not everybody in this world has. He was able to be such a great leader and such an influence that I know he was doing a great job there and was getting those guys to play with a lot of energy and a lot of pride.”
In a moving tribute from Kelli Norman, the media director of the White Hall Middle School, we get a glimpse into who Ryan Mallett was as a teacher: “With Mallett around, we always had someone to open our doors for us, carry our stuff, (teachers tote around a lot,) and borrow dry erase markers because he never had one. He would always laugh knowing it was only the twentieth time he’d asked. He was nervous about small group testing and his SOR observations, taking notes like a champ.”
Elsewhere on the district’s website, Norman continues: “Walking in at 8am on a school day will not be the same without his smile, his stories, his request to borrow something or his need for help with something. To us, he was a “champ” not because of his past athletic accolades, but because he made everyone around him smile and laugh even on the hard days.”
Ryan Mallet’s Send Off from Clint Stoerner
Stoerner, who held many of Arkansas’ passing records until Mallett arrived, left a heartfelt and gut-wrenching tribute letter to his friend on Instagram:
I remember the first time I met you, you had just transferred to Arkansas. When I walked in the room, you lit up, paid mad respect & showed big love. I could tell in that moment you were raised right & were a good kid.
You went on to play a lil ball, win a few games & break every one of my damn records. You could left me 1, brother.
I remember the last time I saw you, your long-armed ass grabbed me as I walked in the suite, hugged me & told me you loved me.
You went from a good kid that was raised right to a close friend with a bond that very few share. I love & miss you, brother.
Too soon, not fair, no words, only prayer!!
Rest high, 1-5, rest high!!
Hear Tyler Wilson’s full interview with ESPN Arkansas about Ryan Mallett here:
Listen to Bobby Petrino’s full interview with 103.7 The Buzz about Ryan Mallett here:
More coverage of Ryan Mallett and Arkansas football from BoAS…