Mission Viejo (Calif.) linebacker Tre Madden began playing football in the shadow of America's team.
Born an hour and a half north of Dallas, Madden will end his high school football career in Texas as an U.S. Army All-American. Thursdays, Madden officially accepted his invitation to the Army All-American Bowl with his father by his side.
"The symmetry of this is amazing," said Tre's father, Curtis Madden. "We started the boys out playing club football in Texas. My two best friends and I were coaching in the park. I remember when my best friend's son hit Tre and knocked him in the dirt.
"He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and saw me standing there with my arms folded. He shook his head, popped up off the ground, ran down and made the tackle. I got goose bumps because that's when I knew he was going to be a football player."
Football is in Madden's blood. While his last name invokes images of Monday Night Football for many, his family has All-American stock. His father played at Kansas State, while his grandfather went on to play professionally for the Los Angeles Rams.
Tre's uncle, Daylon, was an All-American at USC and played six years with the Cleveland Browns.
"He's been exposed to great coaches and great role models," said his father. "Not just myself, but his grandfather and his uncle played professional football. He has another uncle that played at Stanford. His mother is also a great athlete, so it's awesome to see his development from those park days in Texas.
"From there to here; the hotbed of football in Southern California playing for a great coach in Bob Johnson. He's taken Tre to another level, and as a dad, I could not be more happy."
For Madden, Thursday's ceremony was surreal. He didn't begin playing football for awards, but he never deprived himself from striving for greatness either.
"Football is just a game I love," said Madden. "Sitting on my dad's lap when I was little, we'd watch the Cowboys play. I remember him yelling at the TV when they lost.
"It was fun, and it still is. That's why I play, so the recognition is something I'm just getting use to. My dad and I talked about this a while ago. He told me I could be great, and to be invited to this game is being a part of greatness."
Curtis Madden still yells at the Cowboys, on TV and in person. Coaching the Mission Viejo Pop Warner League Cowboys, Curtis attended Thursday's ceremony as a proud parent and a proud coach.
However, the gap between becoming an Army All-American and playing at the lowest level of organized football has not changed his message to the Cowboys he coaches today.
"If it changed my perspective, it would contradict what I've told these kids all along," said Curtis. "You can achieve greatness, but first, you have to dare to be great. I tell that to all of the kids I coach, not just my son. Don't be afraid to fail - pursue your dream.
"To have Tre and the kids I've coached go to the college ranks is rewarding. I'm not a rich man, so this is my way of giving back to the sport that has done so much for me. Football was the vehicle that allowed me to get an education, travel the world, move to Southern California and put my son in the situation he is in today."
Madden is the son of a coach, and his path to San Antonio was split between football and family from an early age.
"We had a mechanism when he was younger to separate family and football," said Madden. "I would drive him to practice and give him coaching points on the way. I'd tell him, 'Daddy will see you after practice,' and he'd say, 'Okay coach.' After practice he'd ask me, 'Daddy, how did I do today?' That was our mechanism to switch from coach to dad.
"Now, sometimes - in the heat of battle - the line would blur. I'd yell at him in a game, and he would look at me like, 'This is my dad melting down.' I've learned to stay away from that. I allow his coaches to coach him and give him space. That is unless I feel really strongly about something.
"But now that he's older, he doesn't need me talking to him. When he's coming off a bad play and I catch him looking my way, if I make a move toward him, he'll just walk the other way. He doesn't need me coaching him up anymore, but he still ask for my feedback from time to time and that lets me know he still values what dad has to say."
Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio (Texas), Madden will count on the advice of his dad to help him build a winning streak for the West. It's a matter of pride.
"We have to be ready to play," said Madden. "It's big time competition, so you have to be hyped up. I don't really know what to expect, but I know the West needs to get a winning streak going."
Committed to USC, Madden's trip to San Antonio will be one of two trips he takes as a high school football prospect.
"I'll go to USC for a visit, but I really don't think I'll take trips to any other schools," said Madden. "A few schools are still sending me letters and stuff, but I'm solid with USC."
USCFootball.com will continue to bring you updates on the Tre Madden throughout the offseason.
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