Joe Madsen went from rolling snaps as a redshirt freshman to this fall becoming one of the most valuable players on West Virginia’s very valuable offensive football unit.
Mountaineer football fans may cringe at the thought of going through a season without quarterback Geno Smith, or wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Well, going it alone without the Mountaineers’ senior center would be just as devastating.Question: Which guy on the offensive line saw action on 943 plays, including seven games with 70 snaps or more?
Answer: Joe Madsen.Question: Which guy on the offensive line led the team with 55 knockdown blocks, including a season-best seven against second-ranked LSU?
Answer: Joe Madsen.Question: Which guy on the team enters the 2012 campaign with the most career starts under his belt with 38?
Answer: Joe Madsen.Question: Which guy can pull off a Mohawk haircut, flirt with Iowa State cheerleaders, deliver Internet video reports, tote the Mountaineer mascot’s musket, and attract a horde of reporters in a hotel ballroom in Dallas, Texas during Big 12 media day?
Answer: You guessed it, Joe Madsen.
Madsen is not just a great quote maker - he’s also a heck of football player, a guy his teammates and coaches wouldn’t trade for any other center in the country. That’s how much they think of him.
For those of us who have been around here for 20-plus years, it seems like Joe Madsen has been here for at least 15 of them. He chuckled when reminded last week that he is one of the last remaining links to the Rich Rodriguez era.
“I was recruited by [Rodriguez assistant coach Bruce] Tall and then once I [committed], I got recruited by Coach [Steve] Dunlap,” Madsen recalled.
Madsen, despite growing up in Northeast Ohio, said that he had always coveted a spot on West Virginia’s roster, and when he came to one of Rodriguez’s summer camps before the start of his senior season of high school, his No. 1 goal was to secure a scholarship offer from the Mountaineers.
“Before I came I told my dad, ‘I’m going to go to this camp and I’m going to try and win every award they have’ and I got MVP of that camp, so they offered me right there and it was nice,” he said.
The Rodriguez staff thought Madsen would fit perfectly in West Virginia’s run-centric spread offense they were operating at the time, but those coaches packed their bags and left town before Madsen ever got here.
Then, as soon as Madsen arrived, he quickly realized that 280-pound tackles with short arms are about as desirable as fat Chippendale dancers. That’s when he decided it might be a good idea to do a little fibbing.
“I played tackle in high school and they were like, ‘Can you snap?’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I can snap.’ But I didn’t think I could, plus, I had [Washington Redskins nose tackle Chris] Neild in front of me and he was always barking at me and telling me not to mess up …
“And I’d always mess up.”
One-hoppers, two-hoppers, and yes, sometimes even four-hoppers, were part of Madsen’s early snapping repertoire - that, and an inability to remember where he was supposed to go was the right prescription for a bench-warming center.
He laughs now at the hopeless feeling he once had then as a young player trying to figure out what to do.
“It felt like the play was in slow motion [for everyone else] and everything you did was wrong,” he said. “I remember my first play, I snapped the ball and I just looked and everyone is running around and I’m like, ‘I don’t even know where I’m at right now?’”
Even a couple years into his career when he became the team’s starting center, Madsen admitted he sometimes confused his line calls and assignments because there were simply too many of them for him to remember on any given play.
“Back in the day, there were like 15 calls for one play, I was young, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I kind of had an idea where the play was going so I just tried to kill the guy in front of me,” Madsen recalled.
Today, things are now going in slow motion for Madsen and he is the guy pointing out where everyone should be going. His current offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh says Madsen, minus those short arms, is everything a line coach could ever want and more.
“He’s prototypical in his height, his weight, his athleticism and all those things,” Bedenbaugh said. “What he understands – and this is what good players do – he understands his perceived weaknesses and he takes advantage of it, plus, he played against some good competition [Neild] early in his career that made him a better player.”
Madsen said he wants to bring back the nasty, physical offensive line play the Mountaineers were once known for around here – big bruisers like Brian Jozwiak and Mike Compton who just mauled the guy in front of them or Ryan Stanchek springing Steve Slaton for a long run, and then hustling 50 yards down the field to make the final block to get him into the end zone.
“We have been preaching about just finishing blocks and not letting go,” Madsen said. “Sometimes guys will get on their blocks and then let go and their guy makes the tackle half the time, so we have been emphasizing finishing blocks.”
Madsen figures by doing that, the extra second that he can stick to his guy might mean the difference between a first down or a touchdown with some of the weapons West Virginia has on offense this year.
“We have threats everywhere,” Madsen explained. “We have fast guys who can juke you, we have big guys who can run you over and we have guys who can run deep and catch the ball. I just can’t wait to see it all on the field.”
He didn’t stop there.
“I love the big playmakers because it makes my job so much easier when Tavon is out there scrambling around and I kind of just watch and forget to block sometimes,” Madsen said.
As for those short arms, Madsen said he might be starting a new fad in college football.
“These short arms, this is the new style of center play,” he joked. “I feel like it’s an advantage for me at center. My hands are always inside and I’m just always grinding.”
Indeed, Madsen has turned it into an advantage for him, and he has certainly become an advantage for the Mountaineer offense this fall.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.