By Mark Gregory
As the Northern Illinois University football team took on Toledo at the first-ever football game played at the home of the Chicago White Sox – now named Guaranteed Rate Field – it did so with quarterback Anthony Maddie on the sideline in a walking boot.
Maddie had injured his ankle in the game the previous week against Bowling Green, was a game-time decision and tried to go, but was ruled out just before kickoff.
Injured and on the sidelines is unfortunately a position Maddie has found himself in a lot during his days in DeKalb, however, for a five game stint during the middle of this season, the Plainfield native found himself exactly where he always wanted to be – as a starting quarterback for a Division-I college football team.
Maddie, a fifth-year senior, replaced the injured Drew Hare and led Northern on a 3-2 run.
“It felt great. That first game as a starter was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” Maddie said. “It has been a lot of fun just being the guy and preparing and getting ready to go out and help my team win games as a starter. It is something I have never experienced before.”
As the starter, Maddie completed 105 of 175 passes for 1,213 yards and eight touchdowns. He rushed 82 for 575 yards and another seven scores.
When Hare went down this season, NIU head coach Rod Carey and the Huskies’ coaching staff decided to go with Maddie over redshirt sophomore Ryan Graham.
“That was big,” Maddie said of the decision. “At times when you are not the starter you wonder how much confidence the guys on the team and the coaching staff have in you, but that was proof that they did have that confidence in me and it’s a good feeling they let me go out there and be the guy.”
Prior to getting the call, Maddie suffered through highs and lows in his football career, including missing out on a chance to start a year ago when Hare went down with an injury. Maddie had season-ending surgery earlier in the campaign and was not able to step in.
“Last year all the guys went down and when Drew went down, I wasn’t even there because I was out for the whole season. I thought that was my opportunity and I missed out,” Maddie said. “My faith is very important to me and I kept praying and I felt like this is what I was supposed to be doing with my life at the time and I always had faith I would get an opportunity. I never wanted it to be because someone went down, but I had faith that eventually I would have a shot to help my team. I also have a lot of family and friends that have supported me when things weren’t going the way I wanted. When I came into college, it wasn’t what I expected, obviously. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but when I got down, I had my parents and my family that were always there for me.”
In high school, Maddie led Joliet Catholic Academy to the Class 5A championship game as a sophomore, but transferred after that season to pass-friendly Aurora Christian, where he won a state title his senior season. That year he passed for 3,799 yards and 52 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,117 yards and 18 scores on the ground, it was the second most total yardage in a season in IHSA history. He also tallied 404 points that year becoming the only Illinois high school player to ever eclipse 400 points in a season. He was named all-state as well as earning conference and state title game MVP honors.
Maddie’s collegiate career began as a redshirt freshman at Western Michigan University, but he left when the coaching staff changed after this first season.
He had to sit out his first year in DeKalb because of NCAA transfer rules. In 2014, Maddie appeared in nine games as a dual-threat quarterback, where he passed for 227 yards and rushed 44 times for 201 yards with one rushing touchdown.
With all that happened in his career, NIU offensive coordinator and former University of St. Francis head coach Mike Uremovich said he was happy for Maddie to get the chance to start.
“I am genuinely happy for him. To go through what he has gone through, he could have hung it up a few times,” Uremovich said. “He has earned the opportunity for this. He kept working and he got the opportunity and made the most of the opportunity and that is all you can ask for in life. He will be successful down the road in whatever he chooses to do because of his work ethic.”
Maddie said giving up football was never an option for him.
“It is hard to quit and just say ‘I’m done’ when you have all these guys that you care about and that care about you. You don’t get this anywhere else. We have 108 guys on this team and this is something special,” he said. “I have talked to my parents a lot about all of this and they said at the very least I am getting experience for what the real world is like. It is going to be tough out there.”
In fact, Maddie wanted so bad to get on the field this season, he attempted a switch to wide receiver just before the season started.”
“I was just trying to figure out a way to play. I just love football,” Maddie said. “Coach Carey and I discussed the best way to get on the field for my senior year.”
Maddie caught one pass on the season for nine yards.
While Maddie has stats in the passing, rushing and receiving game this season for the Huskies, his legacy with NIU may have been established before he got the chance to start under center.
“I hope that I can leave behind in my short time as a starter is that you will get that shot and if you are here, you are here for a reason. A lot of these young guys may not be in the situation they want to be. It was a long four and a half years,” Maddie said. “The main thing is you have to always have faith. I have a lot of friends that play college football and it is rarely what you hoped for. This has taught me to have faith and keep working hard and eventually you will get a shot and when you do, you have to make the most of it.”
Uremovich said Maddie’s perseverance is something young players can learn from.
“That is the hardest thing for young players. We never want them to be happy where they are at, but to be patient where they are at,” he said. “So many guys expect to come in the door and expect to play as a freshman or a sophomore and that’s great, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We just want them to keep working and they will get a chance.
“Any time a freshman or sophomore comes into the office down about playing time, we can just look to him and tell them to look at what he did.