Chatman finds stability and success

Photo by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Jasper senior Malik Chatman has served as a valuable running back, wide receiver, cornerback and kick/punt returner during the Wildcats’ 7-2 season, which continues tonight at Northview. Chatman leads the team in kick return yardage and has 11 touchdowns — five running, three receiving, two off kick returns and one off an interception return.


Where did Malik Chatman come from?

The Jasper football star probably has many viewers asking that question during his senior season, which continues at 7:30 p.m. today when the Wildcats (7-2) visit Northview (7-2) for a first-round Class 4A sectional bout.

The reserved but oft-smiling Chatman keeps it simple when explaining how he went from not playing football in his first two high school seasons to becoming a standout Big Eight Conference wide receiver, running back, kick returner and cornerback — an athlete who has accounted for 11 touchdowns and 66 points, both third-best in the area.

“My junior year was my first year of high school football, so I was coming into something, I would say, new,” the 17-year-old said. “I was kind of learning this and that and what I could have potential on. So this year, I just feel more strength in everything that has to do with the positions I play.”

But the question — where did Malik Chatman come from? — can actually run two ways. Not only can it be directed toward his play on the gridiron, but also toward his journey to Jasper.

Chatman grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but eventually moved in with a sister at French Lick. He said Florida wasn’t a good fit for him environmentally, and he cited that as the same reason he eventually traveled with his sister to Jasper and enrolled in high school here.

After working on his grades during his first two high school years at Jasper, Chatman got in touch with the staff of Wildcat coach Tony Ahrens. The 15-year Jasper leader said he was immediately struck by Chatman’s athleticism, something Chatman maintained despite not playing football regularly since he was a youngster.

“Anytime we’ve got guys that show up in our building that are as athletic (as Chatman) and have an interest like that, we’re going to them right now,” Ahrens said. “I think one time I saw him, maybe it was at one of our camps, and he was just doing a backflip just standing there.”

Chatman said he was quiet when he first joined the team, describing it as “staying in my own bubble.” But he was quickly accepted by his new teammates and already had a comfortable bond with his head coach.

“When I just met T, it was like instant relationship,” Chatman said. “Because he just acts like me a little bit. Fun-loving, not really scared to say what’s on your mind or anything.”

Ahrens described Chatman as “very green” when the latter first joined the Wildcats, but also as someone who was never bothered by the team’s challenging offseason workout program and who was willing to work his way to a key spot on the roster.

Before Chatman could achieve that as a senior, however, he had another life development.

Looking to give him a more stable local living situation, the Wildcat coaching staff reached out to Jasper High health science teacher Atalie Schroering and her husband, Kevin Mahar, and the two accepted Chatman into their home.

The duo became Chatman’s legal guardians, and he moved in with them in May 2017.

“Malik’s just a kid that radiates personality,” Schroering said. “He’s super kind and genuine and funny. All those qualities that, you’re kind of drawn in to Malik immediately.”

Chatman said he too is happy with the arrangement. And with the support of Schroering and Mahar, as well as that of his fellow Wildcats, Chatman was put in position to thrive this football season.

And thrive he has.

“It just started out at a steady pace, and then all of the sudden it was just like morning sunshine,” Ahrens said. “He was, bang-bang to right now. Anytime he’s got his hands on the ball, something’s going to happen.”

Chatman has proven that in all nine Wildcat games. Perhaps his greatest gains have come as a rusher, compiling 216 yards on 24 attempts and finding the end zone five times while benefitting from a blinding ability to accelerate on demand.

Chatman is more than adept at hauling in passes as well, using Velcro-like hands to capture 13 receptions for 182 yards and three touchdowns thus far. That last part is something Chatman derives great pleasure from.

“The position I like playing the most would definitely have to be receiver. Yeah, receiver,” Chatman said. “I just feel like when you score, it’s all glory.”

But Chatman is also fond of being a cornerback — “because I like hitting people,” he said with a laugh. Jasper’s opponents probably aren’t fond of seeing the 6-foot-2, 173-pounder on defense, however, as he’s picked off four passes and returned one for a touchdown.

Don’t forget about Chatman on special teams, though. He’s the Wildcats’ leading kick and punt returner with 460 yards and a pair of scores, both of those coming on kickoffs.

“It’s exciting for us,” said Mahar, who along with his wife has attended all of Chatman’s games this season. “We like to go to watch football games in general, but now there’s a true investment going to see him and watch him play hard. This season’s been fun to watch.”

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the season for Chatman, however, came when his birthmother, Tracy, flew in from Florida to attend Jasper’s senior night festivities last week. It came as a surprise to Chatman.

“(Ahrens) told me I was going to get a reward. I guess that was my reward,” he said with a laugh. “I was really, really happy because this was the one game I actually really wanted her to come to.”

Chatman and those around him hope the Wildcat campaign continues past tonight’s matchup, roughly a two-hour trip from Jasper. After that, a meeting with 4A No. 2 Evansville Reitz or 4A No. 3 Evansville Central awaits the following week.

But regardless of what kind of stats Chatman puts up against the host Knights, one can be confident he’ll respond in a humble manner.

“Some people that are athletic and good at things, they rub other people wrong because they’re a little too arrogant. He’s not like that,” Ahrens said. “Instead, any time he has the success, everybody is so, so, so happy for him. They want to see him do well.”

There’s even a chance Chatman could take his talents to the college level, as he said he’s visited NAIA Marian University in Indianapolis with an interest in playing for coach Mark Henninger’s program.

It’s no surprise that the football fanatic — Schroering described Chatman’s interest as extending to college and professional play, as well as the “Madden” video game series — wants to stick with the sport that’s brought him so much success and joy the last two years. And it all started by making a trip to Jasper.

“Honestly, if I could’ve went back in time, I wouldn’t change it at all,” Chatman said. “I’m really happy to be on this team.”

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