When Tyreek Maddox-Williams came to Rutgers as part of head coach Chris Ash’s first recruiting class, the former 3-star prospect wasn’t expected to start at linebacker as a true freshman. After debuting exclusively on special teams early on in the season, the former Timber Creek star kept plugging away. He blocked a punt and registered his first collegiate tackle in the second game of the season against Howard.
Three weeks later, after senior Greg Jones was carted off the field against Ohio State, Maddox-Williams was thrust into the lineup in the first half at the SAM linebacker position. He ended up finishing that day with a game high 11 tackles against the #2 team in the country. He finished his freshman campaign with 47 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a pass break-up. He was named to ESPN’s Big Ten All-Freshman Team and was expected to hold down the third linebacker spot alongside fellow starters Deonte Roberts and Trevor Morris for multiple seasons.
Unfortunately, during the second practice of training camp last season, Maddox-Williams tore his ACL during a non-contact drill. He missed the entire 2017 campaign and was forced to wait to return to the field until this past spring. His performance during spring camp was praised and he has come into fall training camp ready to reclaim his starting role at the SAM spot.
Outside linebackers coach Toby Nienas said that Maddox-Williams has worked his way back in impressive fashion. “He’s looked good. I think he is moving well, running well. I think he feels better than he did in the spring”, said Nienas.
It’s been just over one year since Maddox-Williams was injured and Nienas said he is experiencing far less discomfort in his recovery than he did a few months ago. “I think he is experiencing a lot less swelling. It’s pretty normal to have swelling in the knee post-procedure. I think he is feeling really good.” Nienas added, “Physically, he looks fantastic. I think his energy is good. He is upbeat.”
One of the keys of Maddox-Williams’ success is his focus on the details and being a perfectionist with his play. Nienas said that he has worked with him on what really matters in regard to making mistakes on the field. “He wants to be right all the time. It’s hard to be right all the time. You have to deal with a little bit of that and help him realize occasionally we are going to make some mistakes.” Nienas stressed, “How we react to those mistakes is more important than the mistake itself.”
Maddox-Williams is hard on himself and the time away from playing last season certainly wasn’t easy. Nienas said that the redshirt sophomore is determined to get back to where he was two seasons ago and reassert himself as the starting strongside linebacker, putting him back in the fold with Roberts, Morris, and now sophomore Tyshon Fogg, the former 4-star recruit, who is fighting for a starting position.
“He had to sit last year. That’s really hard for a player, especially for a player who had success very early because they want to build on that. He wasn’t able to do that.” Nienas explained, “I think he feels like he lost some ground, which is not the case, but I think that is how he views it.”
In a position group that some consider to be the strongest on the entire team, Maddox-Williams has gotten little attention outside of the program this summer. After his surprise freshman campaign in 2016, his work ethic is the key to him regaining his form. The 6’1” redshirt sophomore has demonstrated strong character as well, which helped him earn Academic All-Big Ten honors last fall, despite not playing due to the ACL injury. Don’t be surprised if Maddox-Williams steals the show among the deep linebacking core of Rutgers this fall.
“I’m excited to watch him go,” said coach Nienas. “I think he will perform at a high level early for us. I have to keep him healthy. I’m very optimistic. I know he is excited to play.”
Having Maddox-Williams back on what could be a very formidable Rutgers defense gives the veteran unit another proven performer on the field this season. It doesn’t matter if opposing teams remember him from two seasons ago or not, as a healthy Maddox-Williams will have an opportunity to make a big impact this fall.