Game day. The alarm clock rings at 9 a.m. but he doesn’t get out of bed until 10.
No breakfast, it will only slow him down. First things first, the speakers flip on and the apartment fills with gospel music. It’s always gospel music on game days. The apartment is filled with the sound of Fred Hammond’s “No Weapons”.
He washes his face and brushes his teeth with the music flowing in the background.
That’s when the mental reps start. The fade routes in his head, followed by out routes, and snag routes each route each thought filled with the same nervousness and excitement that every game brings.
He flips on the television; it’s College Game Day. Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit are breaking down the games. Corso is screaming and throwing random helmets on.
This is how every game day starts for Jason Madkins.
It’s early in his life. He is only 11 years old. His mother and father are deciding to call it quits. After 20 years of marriage they can’t do it anymore. His mom tells him he’s moving to Mart, Texas where his grandma lives.
Mart, Texas? Where is it? He lives in DeSoto, a town that has a 5A football team, a great basketball team, and is deep in the heart of Dallas. And Mart? Well that’s 25 minutes outside of nothing, a population of barely over 2,000 people, but it’s home; it’s where family is.
He is young, barely in junior high school. Basketball is his sport. He is the small one though. In junior high, Madkins is no bigger than any other kid, just another kid with dreams of the NBA. He lacks height though. But the thought occurs to him that his mother’s cousin, Sheryl Swoops, isn’t that tall and she plays professional basketball. What does it matter? He is determined and going to do whatever it takes.
He enters seventh grade and his brothers play football, so he decides to try it. He is undersized, but they put him at tight end mainly to block. As the time passes, he becomes taller and more effective on the field. High school is around the corner and legendary Texas football coach Terry Cron is there waiting to mold a new crop of football players.
It’s getting closer-game time, that is. He has meetings to attend. He leaves his apartment and walks to his 2004 Dodge Ram. He plugs in his iPod and pumps up his game day song: Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight.” Though the song is all about hatred, a man going through a divorce, it somehow puts the fury into the mild mannered receiver who is more playful than angry.
He arrives at the stadium at 3:45 p.m.; the meeting is at 4, he parks and heads into the meeting room. Special teams meetings are up first. He sits through the meetings and listens to the coaches; they go over positions and responsibilities. It only lasts 15 minutes and then he is off to the offense meetings.
Now the team breaks for their off time.
He has just arrived at Mart High School, a 2A powerhouse. He’s growing. 6 ft. 1 in. by the time he’s a freshman. The coaches are starting to realize what they have in Madkins. But he isn’t even the biggest threat that Mart has ever had. It wasn’t long ago that Quan and Quincy Cosby were playing quarterback and running back respectively.
But there is worry in the air. Coach Cron has left. After years of leading Mart to state championships, he has decided to accept the job at Texas A&M Commerce as head coach.
Well I remember, I remember, don’t worry, how could I ever forget. It’s the first time and the last time we ever met.
The new coach Tommy Roberson is a stranger. He is coming in from a different town. He doesn’t know Madkins, or his family. He hasn’t seen what this young man has done or been through. He never knew he was a small tight end who only wanted to play basketball. All he sees is another kid lining up to play on what promises to be an exciting team.
Madkins makes the freshman team as a starter. He still wants to play basketball, but football is becoming more of a focus. The coaches know he is big, and they know he can catch. But the real shock came at the end of the freshman year, when the varsity made the playoffs and asked Madkins to join them.
But the trust still isn’t there; Madkins knew Coach Cron, his whole family did, and he was left to a new coach and a whole new system. The question is always in the back of his mind. “Who is this guy? And will he go that extra mile for me?”
His grades are slipping again. No particular reason for it. He just isn’t trying. He wants to play football but it’s basketball that is really pulling him away. He plays it all the time, not just at school, but also in the streets and at the park. And when he isn’t playing hoops he is running track. Three sports means no time for studies. But that’s not an issue; sports are all that matters, and grades, well, colleges can overlook those.
It’s time to eat. He is starving. The meetings are over, the mental reps are still going as is the Phil Collins. But his stomach is killing him. The coaches are serving the players chicken fried steak with mash potatoes, but he can’t eat it. He is too picky; he picks up his phone and dials a number.
“Hello, Mom?” says Madkins
“Hi, Sweetie, I am on my way,” responds his mom.
“Did you bring me any rice or pizza? I don’t like this food,” replies Madkins. “Oh, and how is Mariyah?”
“She is great, sweetie; she is just excited to see you!”
He walks back into the locker room. The other teammates are watching the games and are shouting at them. They scream at the television as if it’s their team and not someone else’s.
“How can you drop that?”
His mom calls and announces she has just arrived. Madkins sprints up the stairs, heads straight to the parking lot, and that’s when she sees him. Her face lights up. His face lights up. He is a kid in a candy store. No, wait-better. He is a kid who owns a candy store. She is his heart, his MVP. She is his daughter.
“What?” His voice is cracking, he sounds scared.
“I am pregnant,” she says it with no question in her voice.
How can this be, he thinks? No, not now, my career is just starting. He’s only 18 and he is being recruited to play football. The University of Texas is talking with him, and now it’s just a distant memory. It’s the end of his junior year, but it feels like the end of his life.
He mans up, says that if this is where life is is going that’s fine. He prepares himself for football season, now he has a reason. It’s his daughter; he will make her life better through football. All those seasons he played for himself, to give himself an out, but it’s not about him anymore. No, it’s about her now, and it always will be.
Madkins grew that year. He wasn’t the only one who noticed.
“He was a little more aware of his responsibilities,” said Roberson. “I guess you would say he really grew up. It was a big motivator for him.”
He worked hard and had a great season. It seemed like after every practice there was a note sticking out of his locker; another college promising what his future could become when he went there, signed by another coach who wants to promise him a bright future. But there is smoke on the horizon, another foggy area in his life.
It’s the grades, the ones he thought wouldn’t matter. Colleges like him now, but they are worried about his testing scores.
The University of Texas loves his style, but they need a high ACT score from him to play there. A 21 is all they are asking for. He makes a 16.
So, what does he do now? Texas is asking him to go to a junior college in Arizona that they are affiliated with. But what about his daughter, how can he leave her? Easy answer, he doesn’t.
This is part 1 of a 2 part story. Check out Tuesday’s edition for part 2!