The dream of most high school football players is to one day be good enough to receive an offer to play college football and even have your education paid for. But it takes hard work, determination and dedication and sometimes even a few good breaks to accomplish these feats. For Vidalia senior Jaxson McFadden who signed a National Letter of Intent to play for LaGrange College last Wednesday, the chance to live out his dreams almost never happened.

McFadden, who played fullback and linebacker and defensive line, was one of the up and coming players on a talent heavy 2015 season. The year before as a sophomore he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and was known for getting the tough yards when the Indians needed a yard or two. His running style and hard nose play earned him the nickname “Csonka” which was in reference to the bruising running style of Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, who would have rather run over you than around you. That was McFadden’s mantra, run hard, get the yards you need and line it up and do it again. On defense McFadden exhibited the same toughness and looked forward to the challenge of someone trying to block him. 2015 was going to be a “coming out” year for McFadden and the coaching staff along with Jaxson were excited about the possibilities that the season would hold.

But life has a funny way of throwing a roadblock in the way. Following the first game of the year against Swainsboro, McFadden began feeling ill. Nothing he ate would stay down. He was nauseated most of the time and had bad bouts of stomach pain. At first doctors were unsure of what the problem was, and Jaxson was subjected to test after test, with no results explaining the illness. Days and then weeks began to mount with no definite diagnosis; all the while Jaxson still endured the symptoms and lost 32 pounds from his once strong and fit body. The whole time this was going on, Jaxson’s thoughts were still where his heart was, on the field with his friends. “I wanted to be on the field, with my friends, my teammates and help them win” said McFadden. But that didn’t seem possible. Whatever was causing Jaxson’s body to react in the manner it did, was wreaking havoc on his digestive system, to the point of causing ulcers and creating a whole new set of problems.

Then came the day of reckoning, a diagnosis, one that his mom April and dad Richie had searched for, but at the same time was fearful of. “We weren’t sure what the diagnosis was going to be,” said April, “but we knew that whatever the diagnosis, God was in control and we trusted Him for Jaxson’s healing.” The answer…Helicobacter pylori or H pylori, came from Dr. Christopher Rittmeyer, a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Memorial Medical in Savannah.

H Pylori in laymen’s terms is a bacterium that infects the gastrointestinal tract that penetrates the mucoid lining of the stomach. And although up to 85% of those infected with H Pylori never experience any symptoms, Jaxson was in the 15% that did. Now armed with a diagnosis, the doctors began treating Jaxson with antibiotics and other medicines, trying to arrest the infection that had dropped him down to less than 170 pounds.

Thankfully, the Dr.’s were able to get the infection under control and Jaxson’s body began to heal. But make no mistake about it; he was still a long way from playing football. But at least he was back with his team, his friends, and his brothers on the field.

Jaxson McFadden suiting up again to play football at any time in the future would seem impossible. But then you’d have to know Jaxson to know that he doesn’t live in impossibilities. He doesn’t live in cannot and why me? Jaxson lives in “what if” and “why not” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  

So with two regular season games to go in the 2015 football season, Jaxson McFadden is not only on the depth chart, but goes on to play in both of those games and the playoffs and finishes the year with over 200 yards rushing. Not bad for a guy who looked like he would never put on a football uniform again, let alone play in a game. But according to McFadden “I knew that one day I would get back on the field and play, deep down I knew that it would happen.”

But the story doesn’t end there. During the off season Jaxson worked his way back into even better playing shape than he was before the illness hit. His weight was back up and the muscle and strength that he had lost was back, and to look at him, you couldn’t tell that just months prior, McFadden was so weak, that he couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the den without tiring out. The 2016 season, his senior year was on the horizon and this was the year he would make a statement on the field and hopefully catch the eye of a college who might take a chance on him.

But just as the summer workouts got going in earnest, Jaxson suffered yet another setback when he went down with heat exhaustion. This time the toll on his body seemed like it would be too much for him to recover and ever play football again. After all, he had just fully recovered from the H Pylori and now on the verge of a heat stroke, his body once again began to go backwards and all thoughts of ever participating in sports again seemed out of the question. Even his mom April thought that it was possible he would never play again. “We didn’t know for sure, Jaxson said he felt like an 80 year old man after the heat illness.”

But once again, Jaxson proved everyone wrong and 7 games into the 2016 season; Jaxson McFadden’s name was listed on the depth chart as the number 2 fullback. That night against Jeff Davis Jaxson ran the ball 5 times for 33 yards and scored his first touchdown of the year. Two weeks later Jaxson started against Toombs County and helped his teammates defeat the Bulldogs for the 8th year in a row.

Jaxson played in the last six games of the year which saw the Indians post a record of 9-3 and make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. Once again Jaxson finished the year with over 200 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns, putting a cap on his high school football career.

The story could end there and it would be a happy ending. But who wants a happy ending when you can have an unbelievable ending? And unbelievable it is. Following his final game, Jaxson was selected to play in the Georgia Sports Alliance All Star Game in Macon on December 18th. Vidalia Head Coach Lee Chomskis, who had sent players to the game in the past, thought that the game might open some doors for McFadden if he had a good game. “There are a lot of smaller schools who have coaches who come to that game and it sometimes is an opportunity to showcase a kid’s talent who may not have been recruited by a bigger school.”

And McFadden did not disappoint; Jaxson who was just a few weeks removed from the end of his senior season and two illnesses’ that would have stopped most people, was all over the field on defense and was named the Defensive MVP for the game.

A phone call from LaGrange Head Coach Steve Pardue to Chomskis, a film of McFadden’s highlights and the recommendation of Telfair County Head Coach Matt Burleson who served as Jaxson’s coach during the All Star Game, and just like that, a kid who everyone (except he and his family) thought would never play football again, has signed onto play college football for the LaGrange College Panthers on Saturday’s beginning this fall.

Hard work, determination, dedication, and for Jaxson McFadden, Faith in God and the will to never give up, has proved to be the right recipe for success.

(L-R) Front: Bentley McFadden (sister), April McFadden (mother), Jaxson McFadden, Richie McFadden (father), Jordan McFadden (brother).Back: Coach Lee Chomskis and Coach Rodney Garvin.

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