Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich.

That’s from the first known recipe for s’mores — they called it “some more” back then — which appeared in a Girl Scouts cookbook nearly 100 years ago. A delectable treat, but messy — a s’more is not a s’more without the mess in the middle, after all. The melted marshmallow pressed between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate, fluff oozing out the sides. It sticks to your hands. It’s worth the trouble.

The miracle is in the mess.

How does LaTonya Bridgewater sum up the odyssey of a 22-year-old kid, making it to the NFL from small-town Campbellsville, Ky.? How did Malachi Corley get here, a third-round pick of the New York Jets?

Bridgewater, his mother, calls it a s’more.

“It’s always a messy middle before we get to the miracle,” she said. “I always say we love them (s’mores) but what does it take to make it? The marshmallow has to go under fire, it has to be pressed down for the ooey gooey but at the end of the day it’s so scrumptiousdillyumptious. What makes it good is not the graham crackers. It’s the mess that’s in the middle. Our lives, it’s always a mess in the middle, and it takes a mess before the miracle.”

When Corley was a kid, he’d often wander off, his curiosity carrying him away as his family frantically tried to track him down. His mom called him “inquisitive and mischievous.” But he always found his way home.

He always found his way.

“When he puts his mind to doing something,” she said, “you can’t stop him.”

He was in middle school when he told the Campbellsville High School football coach he was going to make it to the NFL one day. His mother saw it coming when he was even younger. When he was a boy, she had a dream, vivid. In it, Corley was holding a football, standing in the Heisman pose, and he “went far.” She wasn’t sure what it meant.

“God didn’t show me how far,” she said. “But I testify that God told me a long time ago that Malachi was going to go far in football.”


They called him the “YAC King” at Western Kentucky for his singular after-the-catch ability at wide receiver. He doesn’t shy away from contact like many at the position — he seeks it out. “Running through guys is my way of imposing my will,” he said. No wide receiver broke more tackles than him in college the last two years. Defensive backs often struggle bringing him down. Other positions, too. Get him the ball and he’ll do the rest.

He has always been his quarterback’s best friend — and his new quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was one of the first Jets players to text him after he was drafted. The Jets are hopeful Corley, a unique and versatile weapon, can help transform one of the league’s worst offenses from a year ago into one with a little more creativity.


Why the Jets wanted ‘YAC King’ Malachi Corley no matter what in NFL Draft

When Corley arrived at the team’s facility in Florham Park on Thursday, his Jets jersey, No. 17, was waiting for him.

Here he is, far.

Long before Corley was born, his mother thought she was done having kids. She lived on a military base in Fort Knox, Ky., with her husband and two kids, Michael and De’Erricka. She sometimes watched two neighborhood boys whose parents were off working; their names were Clarence and Isaiah. When a friend saw Bridgewater caring for Clarence and Isaiah, she said: “You know, you’re sowing a seed into your boys.”

“What boys?” she said, indignant. “I’m not having any more kids.”

Then she got pregnant with Micah in 1999. Three years later, Malachi was born. Shortly after, she divorced her husband.

“I was angry for a long time,” she said. “My life was satisfied. I had two older children. When the divorce came, I thought, why did you give me two (more) kids?

It was not the plan. But plans change. She turned to God. She decided that, with His help, she could do it, raise two more kids as a single mom. She never hid her struggles from her children.

“Let your kids see your struggles,” she said. “Your kids need to know you’re struggling. When life happens, they’re going to know how to triumph in the struggles. I watch my children, that’s how they’re strong. They watched their momma come through it. They watched how I chose praise over a pity party.”

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They moved to Orange City, Fla., and then to Campbellsville, Ky., when Malachi was in the fourth grade. In the early days, Bridgewater worked most of the day and night, leaving Micah as the “latchkey kid,” she said, tasked with getting his little brother home from school, feeding him and putting him to bed. She worked 12-hour shifts at a mental-health facility for children. In her spare time, she also worked other jobs in senior-citizen care.

She’d leave a note on the counter for Micah. Dinner’s in the fridge. Microwave it. Make sure you’re in bed by 9 or 10.

Bridgewater often returned to an apartment with the furniture knocked over, a mess everywhere. The reason: Micah would move the couches to the side of the room, get on his knees and they’d play “knee football,” where Malachi would have four downs to get from one side of the living room to the other, full contact.

“I’d play standing up, trying to run over him,” Malachi said.

They’d “just run at each other,” Micah said.

It often left a mess, which Bridgewater laughs about now — but didn’t then.

“You work hard for what you got in there and they’re tearing it up,” she said.

But Micah had a vision. He wanted to toughen his brother up. He was always bigger than Malachi. He grew into a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive lineman who played collegiately first at Division II Kentucky State and then at Campbellsville University, an NAIA school. He led the team in sacks in 2020.

Malachi grew to be only 5-foot-10, but packed with muscle. If you want to understand how he became so hard to tackle, start there: He had to run through his brother. Still does. Micah kept his pads from college and sometimes they’ll go out onto the practice field, where Malachi will attempt to run through him. That was part of his training for the Senior Bowl. Those battles weren’t much of a contest until Malachi got to sixth grade and finally “started growing.”

“All the clips you see of him running dudes over,” Micah said, “I catered the living room battles to that. He has no fear.”

Malachi started following his brother around to football practice as a middle schooler. Campbellsville High coach Dale Estes noticed him doing things “most middle schoolers don’t do” on the football field. When he spoke to Malachi in seventh grade, he stated his goal: I’m going to be a professional football player.

Campbellsville is a small school — less than 300 students when Corley was there — playing in the smallest division of Kentucky football. There were only 20 kids on the team, so Corley played just about every position, and thrived at all of them — especially running back and wide receiver. He also played safety, returned punts and kicks, played on the kick and punt-return coverage units and occasionally chipped in at long snapper. When Corley was a junior, the Eagles were preparing to face one of the most productive wide receivers in Kentucky. Estes put Corley at cornerback.

Zero catches, zero yards.

He dominated on offense, too. “He would absolutely just run through people,” Estes said. “Not only could he run through people, but (he was) the best kid I ever coached in terms of stopping, cutting on a dime and never looking like he slowed down.”

(Photo of Malachi atop Micah: Courtesy of LaTonya Bridgewater)

Most days, Estes had to run him out of the weight room. They were allotted only three hours for practices. The players would go home; Estes, too. He’d drive back an hour later and Corley would be back out on the practice field, cones set up, running his own drills. He always carried a duffle bag of football gear around with him, his mom said.

Two times a week, Micah or his mother would drive Malachi two hours to Louisville to train with Chris Vaughn, a former NFL wide receiver. Vaughn trained Rondale Moore and Wan’Dale Robinson, who both made it to the NFL, too. Corley is the first one from Campbellsville to make it.

“There are kids that live 10 minutes away who don’t have the motivation and you’ve got a kid driving two hours,” Vaughn said. “That always stuck with me.”

Vaughn would line Corley up against cornerbacks destined for Power 5 programs, the sort of players he didn’t often go against at Campbellsville. He struggled at first — but kept showing up, undeterred.

“He never shied away,” Vaughn said. “Once he got that first fight-or-flight moment, and I saw fight, I knew he had a chance to be great.”

Their goal in training: Impose your will. Vaughn, who said Corley has the lower-body strength of a bodybuilder, estimates the receiver can bench-press 415 pounds. That strength shows in his play style.

“Every time I get the ball in my hands, I’m ready to punish somebody,” Corley said. “That’s the way I like to play the game.”

When Corley arrived at Western Kentucky, the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship, the team’s trainers noticed two bumps on his ankle. They asked him if he’d suffered an injury in high school.

He did but never got it checked. As a senior, Corley hurt his ankle late in his senior season but refused to see the doctor. He told his mom he’d just ice it and he’d be fine. She believed him. Corley missed a couple of games but forced his way back into the lineup for the playoffs. He limped around and scored three touchdowns in a second-round game before Estes took him out because he “couldn’t even move on it.” Corley was upset. His high school career ended that day after a close loss.

Western Kentucky doctors did an MRI just to check on it. He thought it was a mild high-ankle sprain. It was way worse.

“It was actually a broken ankle,” his mom said. “This kid played the end of the football season and a whole season of basketball on a broken ankle.”

Hilltoppers coach Tyson Helton became familiar with that sort of toughness.

That manifested itself in a few ways. Helton remembers calling a screen pass for Corley early in his career and “we didn’t block anybody.” Three defensive backs hit him at the same time, the coach said, and bounced right off him.

“He does what I call the horse kick, when a really good player kicks his knee real high and sticks his foot in the ground,” Helton said. “He did the horse kick, took off and I was like: Yep, we got something special right here.”

Western Kentucky was Malachi Corley’s only FBS offer coming out of high school. (Stephen Lew / USA Today)

Corley broke out as second-year freshman (73 catches for 691 yards and seven touchdowns) and exploded as a sophomore (101 catches, 1,295 yards, 11 touchdowns). Other FBS schools came calling, offering $350,000 to $400,000 in Name, Image and Likeness deals to transfer, Corley said. But he never even entered the portal and instead stuck around WKU for his final year.

“To me, it’s just relates to his story,” Helton said. “He’s always betting on himself. He’s always had that chip on his shoulder from his mom, how she brought him up. He got the big picture and understood that all those things he went through growing up helped him to say: ‘This is the best place for me. I need to be at Western Kentucky.’ He took a road less traveled and it paid off for him.”

In his first game as a junior last fall, he got rocked on a hit against South Florida. He was diagnosed with a chest bruise but “he might’ve cracked a rib,” Helton said. He was supposed to be out four to six weeks but was back after two and scored a touchdown against Ohio State.

“He was hurt but you couldn’t tell with his style of play,” Helton said. “He was still looking for contact. Talk about pro mentality, good players just find a way.”

Corley finished the season with 984 yards and 11 touchdowns. Over his last two years, he led all FBS receivers in yards after the catch and missed tackles forced. Jets coaches, scouts and general manager Joe Douglas fell in love with him. Rodgers watched his film leading up the draft and pushed for him, too.

“There’s one thing he does unbelievably and that’s when the ball’s in his hand he makes DBs pay,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “He fights for extra yards. The guy doesn’t run out of bounds. I joked … if he had a relative standing at the goal line, he’s going to run him over, too.”

There’s a hiking trail in town called Trace Creek. Bridgewater will often put on her ear buds and get lost in the scenery, the trail following along a creek surrounded by wildlife — birds, otters, deer and squirrels. She’s 10 years into a job as a supervisor at a Toyota factory, and loving it. Her son made it to the NFL with his brother, now his manager, right alongside him.

She thinks a lot about how they got here. She knows it was God’s plan.

“I tell people all the time, you may see God’s glory on people but you don’t know the story. You don’t know the struggles. You don’t know the fires they had to go through,” she said. “We live in a time now where there’s so much comparison. We want what everyone else has. But you don’t know what they went through to get what they have. God has a purpose and he has a plan and that’s why I say: This isn’t something you can just dream up.”

Two days after he was drafted, Corley was back out on the practice field with Vaughn and his brother.

Yes, he made it to the NFL, his dream. His mom’s dream.

But now he wants s’more.

(Top photos: Adam Hunger / Associated Press and Andy Lyons / Getty Images)