Life has thrown waves of adversity at Nassau Community College's Malcolm Pridgeon: family tragedy, financial hardship, a tumultuous childhood. But if the football star has proved anything, it's that no amount of unfortunate circumstances can break the resolve of a truly motivated individual.
Now a college sophomore, the kid who often walked four miles to high school practice at Central Islip because he didn't have a parent to drive him is a four-star offensive tackle recruit with dreams of making it to the NFL.
He's received scholarship offers from 24 programs around the country, from Rutgers and Stony Brook to Baylor and Alabama.
"If you put him in the right setting," former Central Islip coach Joe Taormina said, "he's going to flourish. He's an extremely coachable kid.
"He's yet to reach his potential. He still has room to grow."
Given that he has a 6-8, 303-pound frame, that's a scintillating thought for college recruiters.
"His hands hang to his kneecaps," Nassau Community College football coach Joe Osovet said. "When you put in a kid that's as long as him that has unbelievable footwork, that can widen the edge and who plays the pass as strong as the run, that makes it twice as difficult for those defensive ends to play games with you on the perimeter."
Off the field, circumstances have forced Pridgeon to grow up at an accelerated rate. His father, James Earl, died of a heart attack when Malcolm was 11. A few years later, his mother, Peggy, suffered a heart attack and stroke.
Hardship has yielded maturity, compassion and drive, traits that have his coaches and teachers raving.
"When I tell you he's an unbelievable kid," Osovet said, "I'm not just saying that. With academics, work ethic, leadership, he's been nothing but unbelievable with regard to getting things accomplished and getting things done."
Peggy Pridgeon now resides at Berkshire Nursing Home in West Babylon, where her son visits her every weekend.
"With everything Malcolm's gone through," Taormina said, "you root for him, because he's a better person, with extremely high character, than he is a football player . . . And he's a great football player. But that's just the icing on the cake.
"What he's learned in football, the discipline, the hard work, that's translated over into other areas of life."
Such as the classroom. Pridgeon is taking 15 credits this summer as he pursues his associate degree, which he calls his biggest goal at the moment, before transitioning to a four-year college.
It's a balancing act, for sure -- with little time between scheduling obligations, Pridgeon has been known to show up to class in his football uniform -- but it hasn't fazed him.
"The classroom was the problem for me in high school, but now I understand what I have to do to be successful there," Pridgeon said. "Going to class on time. Getting my work done on time. Studying during free time. And no slacking. Zero."
As for football, Pridgeon's athleticism and incredible length have had college recruiters salivating for years.
When former UConn coach Jon Wholley came to scout Pridgeon while he was a junior at Central Islip in May 2013, he marveled at Pridgeon's hip flexion, agility and strength as he watched him lift weights and hit the blocking sled. Wholley was sold -- and that was before he followed Pridgeon to the basketball gymnasium and saw him throw down a two-handed slam.
"I get a call from [Wholley] the next morning at 6 a.m. . . . 6 in the morning!" Taormina said with a laugh. "He's telling me about how he can't wait to see Malcolm again."
For now, Pridgeon is focused on his remaining season at Nassau. The NFL still seems distant at this point, but through every class and every practice, Pridgeon is fueled by his dream.
"Every week, I go see my mom at the nursing home. That's the motivation," Pridgeon said. "Get it done in school, get it done in football so that down the road, I can get a check and give my mom half of that check. Get her out of the nursing home. Get her a house. Get all her bills paid for.
"In the back of my mind, I keep saying, 'It's going to pay off. You're going to play in the NFL one day, and this is all going to pay off.' "