The Marshall University football program is one that holds an outstanding tradition.
Randy Moss. Byron Leftwich. Darius Watts. Rakeem Cato.
They all played professional football — heck, even starred in it — and they all were a part of teams that won Mid-American Conference or Conference USA Championships.
However, a player has to have a special mindset in order to grind away at a scholarship after walking on — knowing full and well that the scholarship may never come.
Minford’s Cain Madden has that very mindset, because the redshirt sophomore accomplished something that none of those four Thundering Herd greats can ever lay claim to.
Madden, who was a standout two-way lineman for the Falcons from 2012 to 2015, earned a scholarship after walking on to the Thundering Herd’s football program, his mother, Flora, announced on April 29.
For Madden, the opportunity to obtain a full-ride at a Division I football program is an amazing blessing and a huge relief all in one fell swoop.
“It feels really good,” Madden said. “It was a hard journey. It took me two years, and I knew that it was going to take some time, but I knew that if I just kept working, that it would eventually happen, and it ended up happening.”
However, greatness, as far as Brent Daniels is concerned, has always been evident in his former player.
“He’s got that big farm boy strength,” Daniels said of Madden’s physical traits. “He’s just strong. He’s always been double and triple-teamed, and he’s just gotten better every year that he’s played. Of course, he went up against Jared, so that made each of them better. Once he got to Marshall, he just kept his nose to the grindstone and kept working hard, and it’s paid off for him.”
As an athlete at Minford, Madden, who participated in football and track and field at the school, excelled at both sports.
The physically imposing defensive lineman, who grew to be 6-3, 345, ultimately garnered two consecutive All-Ohio honors to end his football career in the sport, and, to this day, holds the school’s second-best mark in the shot put with a throw of 48 feet, 10-and-a-half inches as well as the program’s third-best showing in the discus with a throw of 130 feet, one inch. Madden capped off his strong multi-sport high school career by obtaining an invite to the 71st Annual North-South All-Star Classic in 2016.
But as physical as Madden played in the trenches, it was his attention to detail and his improvement from a technique standpoint that caught Daniels’ eye.
“You could see the maturity in him both as a player and as a person,” Daniels said. “He got better every day. I know that from a football standpoint, he just got better at knowing what to do and when to do it. His leadership got better each year, and his football knowledge really improved as he got more experience.”
The best part about Madden? It could very well be his humility. A talented lineman, especially on the defensive side of the football, Madden teamed with Ohio University signee Jared McCray, among others, to form a deep and talented line unit that was arguably the best in the SOC II at the time. But you couldn’t tell, according to Daniels, by simply dealing with him on an everyday basis.
“The coaches knew of him,” Daniels said. “Cain just went about his business in a quiet manner. He knew what he was doing, we knew what he was doing, and other coaches in the conference knew what he was doing, so they game planned around him accordingly. He did his job and he did it well. A lot of times, we’d go back and watch film, and he’d draw double and triple teams.”
“Those are memories that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” Madden said of his playing days at Minford. “I still have great friends from Minford through football, and those are friends that I’ll have for life. It’ll be my home forever, and memories that I’ll never forget.”
But as most people know all too well, the Southeastern Ohio sports scene, at times, gets overlooked.
That, however, ultimately turned into Marshall’s gain.
At first, the work, expectedly, was a bit overwhelming for the All-State standout, who, instead of seeing himself in the middle of the starting lineup for four years, had to toil away from the bottom of the totem pole. He was redshirted in 2016.
“I would’ve never known what all these guys truly did,” Madden said. “When I came here, and you start seeing how things are broken down into each of the little details that you’ve got to do, it’s unreal. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. It’s been a blast trying to learn and get better with my entire technique.”
After being shifted to the offensive side of the football, Madden toiled away in practices for two seasons, hoping to, and successfully finding, footing thanks to the help of other teammates who took the now 6-3, 319-pound offensive lineman under their wing.
“When I came here, a lot of my older teammates wrapped their arms around me and brought me along with them,” Madden said. “They didn’t let me slack off. The credit for part of this goes to the older guys who set a good example for me to follow.”
Madden then ultimately moved to the beat of his own drum in a successful manner — and that successful manner led to a late-April meeting with the very man who has led the Thundering Herd to 61 victories, five winning seasons, an undefeated bowl record (5-0) and a 2014 Conference USA Championship — Doc Holliday himself. In that meeting, Holliday informed the lineman that he would be put on scholarship for the 2018 season on forward.
“I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless. All of the hard work that I had put into it just finally paid off and it felt like a weight was just lifted off of my shoulders. It was a great feeling, and I’m just blessed that Marshall and Coach Holliday gave me a chance to play here.”
“I was tickled to death,” Daniels said when he found out. “He comes down to visit all the time, and we talk on the phone quite a bit. We discussed different options and stuff if the scholarship didn’t come through for this year, but thankfully, the scholarship came through. I’m happy for him. Cain’s worked hard. He’s earned it, and hopefully, in the next couple of years, he’ll see a lot of playing time.”
To earn the so-called ‘PT,’ however, Madden will have to work for it. In all, there are 13 offensive and defensive linemen that are of redshirt junior or redshirt senior eligibility, which will make the Thundering Herd, with seven redshirt sophomore lineman — including Madden — behind the initial 13, exceptionally deep on both sides of the football.
The offensive lineman — who could be switched to the defensive side of the football — is no stranger to challenges.
“It’s something that I couldn’t even imagine when I was younger,” Madden said of playing with a Division I football program. “It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and a true blast. Every day, you get to wake up and go to work, and you do nothing but go to work and try to get better.”
However, the simple meaning of having the scholarship is thrilling enough — and one that will allow Madden to focus on football and his classwork instead of having to worry about how ends will be met with the costs of college being a shade over $80,000 for a four-year degree at the school.
“I want him to get his degree,” Daniels said. “That’s the key. He’s getting everything paid for now, so I want him to get his degree and enjoy the experience. He’s getting along up there well. He’s impressed the coaches and he’s working hard. He’s right in the mix.”
And that’s Madden’s ultimate goal — to use the game of football as a way to help provide for his family, whether that be through his education via the football scholarship or through the game itself.
“It’s wonderful,” Madden said. “Just to get that burden off of the shoulders of my papaw and my parents, so that they don’t have to worry about it, is great. All I have to do is worry about school and football. It means the world to me, honestly.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT