- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- Karl Malone Jr. and his dad, the former NBA superstar, communicate by hand signals when the younger Malone plays football.
The kid delivers a message with a quick flip of his arm. Dad just nods and flashes a knowing smile.
So what's the meaning?
"He's making breakfast," Malone Sr. said.
In other words, Malone Jr. is about to unload a pancake block.
Limited chances existed Sunday for the sophomore from Cedar Creek High School in Ruston, La., to floor an opposing lineman. Nonetheless, this Under Armour combine at the New Orleans Saints practice facility marked an important growth opportunity for the 6-foot-4, 284-pound left tackle and nose guard.
Malone Jr. is learning to step away from large shadow of his father, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and two-time Olympic gold medalist who played 19 professional seasons and finished as the No. 2 scorer in NBA history.
The younger Malone has embraced football. And his dad supports the deviation from their family business.
"I'm glad he's not playing basketball," Malone Sr. said. "But I'm more impressed with his attitude than anything.
"It's a curse or a blessing, the last name. He's got guys who play him different because of that. That's just the way life is. Like I tell him, there's no gray area. Some people might not like him because he's my son. But be respectful, go out there and enjoy the game."
Malone Sr. grew up in Summerfield, La., in the northernmost part of the state and attended Louisiana Tech before moving on to the Utah Jazz. When he retired in 2004, he kept business endeavors in Salt Lake City and elsewhere but returned to his roots in Louisiana.
His son began playing football as a sixth-grader and started on the Cedar Creek varsity last fall.
"I just want to make a name for myself and get to the next level," Malone Jr. said.
He said he hopes to play basketball, too, as a junior. Malone Sr. -- whose daughter Kadee plans to play basketball next season at Louisiana Tech -- shrugs at the suggestion.
"He can play basketball, but really and truly, I'd like him to do his own thing," Malone Sr. said.
And if all else fails, the elder Malone said, follow Dad's lead.
"Just hit the guy next to you," said Malone Sr., known for his physical play as a power forward. "Forget the technique. Hit the guy across from you. Don't let somebody come in your space."
Good advice, no doubt, for a football player.
Staying with the family theme, former Miami Dolphins running back Irving Spikes watched his son, Irving Spikes Jr., at the New Orleans Under Armour combine.
The younger Spikes, a strong safety and running back at Resurrection High School in Pascagoula, Miss., sprouted past his 5-foot-8 father at 13 years old. He measured a shade under 6 feet and 188 pounds Sunday.
Like Malone Jr., Spikes must face lofty expectations.
"At times, he's trying to live up to what his daddy has done instead of being himself," said the elder Spikes, who attended Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe.
Sophomore athlete Jeryl Brazil (Loranger, La./Loranger) turned heads Sunday by clocking officially at 4.35 seconds, electronically timed, in the 40-yard dash. It was his first-ever timed running of the 40.
Count Brazil among the surprised.
"I was hoping for around 4.4," he said.
Brazil, 5-9 and 176 pounds, played running back and cornerback last year, accounting for 21 touchdowns, he said. He started as a freshman on the Loranger varsity squad and has starred on the track in the 55- and 60-meter events.
Another emerging prospect, sophomore Noel Ellis (New Orleans/Edna Karr), shared Sunday's best time in the pro-shuttle run at 4.19 seconds.
Ellis, a 5-9 cornerback, recorded eight interceptions last year. He's never traveled outside Louisiana or Texas. And so far, Ellis said, one college program has expressed more interest than others.
"Colorado says they want me really bad," he said. "I'm open to that, but I'd like to stay near home."
Patterson marches in
Patterson (La.) High School sent an impressive cast of prospects to the New Orleans Under Armour combine, led by linebacker Lorenzo Phillips, who counts LSU, Nebraska and Texas A&M among schools to offer a scholarship.
"We're all athletic," Stewart said. "We have great chemistry, so we do a lot to help each other."
Southern Miss, Houston and Memphis have offered Stewart, who expects to hear something more from Arkansas soon. Declouet said he has offers from Central Florida, Southern Miss, Memphis, Houston and North Texas.
All three are planning a trip to Nebraska's camp this spring.
Another Patterson junior, quarterback Justice Jones, awaits his first offer. "I'm staying positive," Jones said, "because I know the quarterback recruiting game is slow."
Stewart posted the best time in the three-cone drill at 6.81 seconds, followed by junior wide receiver Jamie Edwards (Gulfport, Miss./Gulfport) at 6.84; junior wide receiver Kavahra Holmes (Breaux Bridge, La./Bridge) at 6.86; Declouet at 6.88; and freshman defensive back Ki-Jana Curtis (New Orleans/Holy Cross) at 6.94.
Stewart matched Ellis' top time of 4.19 in the pro shuttle, followed by Holmes at 4.2 and Declouet at 4.24.
Under Armour All-American safety Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown), the top prospect in attendance Sunday, recorded a combine-best 36-inch vertical leap and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at 5-11 and 210 pounds.
Among the instructors at the New Orleans Under Armour combine, former Oklahoma All-American and Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Tony Casillas and ex-Carolina Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad spoke to the players.
Muhammad preached responsibility and talked of life lessons. Casillas stuck largely to football.
"The reality is that a lot of these kids want the same thing," Casillas said. "To separate yourselves from other prospects, you've got to do something different. If you think you're working hard, think about the other kid somewhere else who's working harder."
Consider their message delivered. So said athlete Derrick Raymond (Metairie, La./East Jefferson), who ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, among the best in New Orleans.
"Some of the guys started off in positions that weren't the best and worked their way up," Raymond said. "It kind of gives me hope."
Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman