You might not believe in divine intervention, but Sam Madden and his family certainly do.
It’s the only way this close-knit Christian family from New Jersey can explain all the unexpected events that led not only to Madden being at the University of Georgia on a football scholarship, but the entire family now residing in the state as well.
“Absolutely everything about (coming to Georgia) has been validated,” says Madden, his South Jersey accent prominent. “Just everything about it, from the town we live in in Braselton, to Athens, to the coaches, to the education, to the facilities, everything. It couldn’t get any better. Well, maybe until we’re on the field and it’s 110 (degrees) and we’re running. But otherwise it’s all great.”
Madden never expected to be at Georgia. He never expected to be anywhere but Madison, Wis.
His whole family has been Wisconsin fans since John Moffitt, Sam’s cousin, began playing there in 2006. Moffitt became a first-team All-American for the Badgers as an offensive guard and was an NFL third-round draft pick in 2011.
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Madden planned to follow in Moffitt’s footsteps. Already a big kid when the family started making regular trips to Madison from the Jersey Shore, Madden had grown past 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds before reaching his senior season at Barnegat High School. The Badgers’ coaches took notice, and there really wasn’t much to his recruitment.
Wisconsin offered him as a junior, he accepted, destiny was fulfilled.
“They said, ‘you’re our guy, we want you, don’t take any more official visits,’” said Sam’s father, Dave Madden, a towering man himself at nearly 6-7. “He loved the place and it was up to him and we all liked it. So he told them, ‘This is where I want to go.’ So he took no more visits.”
End of story. Or so they thought.
Sam Madden is not a bad student, but he has a lot of obstacles to overcome. Before his parents knew what they were dealing with, Madden carried a 1.9 GPA in high school. But then the diagnosis came after his ninth-grade year and things started to make sense: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“So he’s got a tremendous challenge,” Dave Madden said. “He was off the charts ADHD. But once he got diagnosed, he got medical help, and that’s when he turned things around in school. He’s got a B average now. Made straight A’s his senior year.”
Despite the turnaround, Madden’s transcript was left with some pock marks, and Wisconsin doesn’t take kindly to those. In fact, the school’s inflexible academic standards were the main reason coach Gary Andersen said he left the Badgers for Oregon State in December.
Andersen’s departure left the Maddens — and a lot of other Wisconsin recruits — in limbo.
The Badgers hired Paul Chryst from Pitt as Andersen’s replacement. But things went quiet after the holidays. Despite Dave Madden’s efforts, he couldn’t get anybody at Wisconsin to assure him that its offer to his son was still good.
Finally, Chryst called the second week of January, and the news wasn’t encouraging. Madden still had not been accepted, they were told, and it would be the spring before they’d get a final answer from admissions.
“I blew up at him,” Dave Madden said. “I said, ‘I’ve got email after email with you people saying no problem. His senior year he had a 4.0. He worked his butt off and brought all his grades up. I said, ‘How can they say that when they haven’t even seen his senior grades?’ I was very angry. I’m like, ‘what am I going to do?’”
It was three weeks to national signing day when Madden re-opened his recruitment by sending out a tweet. And the offers came flooding in.
Madden would end up with 24 offers in all, and most of the schools were clamoring for Madden to come for an official visit. But time was of the essence. The Maddens turned to Thomas Brown, their Wisconsin recruiter who became a Georgia assistant 12 days after signing day, to help them sort it out. Brown said he’d give his old coach at Georgia, Mark Richt, a call and see if he could get them in for a visit that weekend.
Richt said “send him down,” and Madden never took another visit. He called his dad in his hotel room at 2 a.m. the first night and said he’d found his home.
“Even though it wasn’t a game day, the atmosphere was just incredible,” Sam Madden recalls. “The downtown area was great, the coaches, the facilities, coach Richt, the O-line coach, just every single thing about it. I didn’t need to go see Ole Miss or South Carolina after that. No disrespect to them, but I knew they couldn’t top it.”
Whatever happens now, the Madden family is convinced that being at Georgia is what was meant to be.
“The hand of God, if you ask me,” Dave Madden said. “Providence is exactly what it is. In retrospect, looking at everything, who we met and what we went through, then coming here, it was what was supposed to happen.”