This month has been kind of hectic for former Eastern Kentucky University football standout Ben Madon, but that’s OK.
While the Pineville native is graduating from EKU with a bachelor’s degree in risk management and insurance, Madon is anxiously preparing for a rare opportunity to play in the National Football League. The Oakland Raiders have invited him to a rookie mini-camp tryout this week in Alameda, Calif.
A first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference tight end, Madon said he is looking forward for a chance to play pro football and he’s going to do his best. “(There is) no contract yet, but getting a mini-camp invite is all I asked for. It’s an opportunity,” said a very thankful Madon.
The 24-year-old Madon, who starred at Bell County High School in football and basketball, was scheduled to fly to California earlier this week.
According to Madon, the Raiders are expected to search for athletic guys who work hard on the field and in the playbook, and display mental toughness. He anticipates the NFL club will try him on special teams and be a matchup problem for defenses.
“I was in the Top 3 in my numbers on (EKU’s) Pro Day out of all the tight ends, so I have to use my athleticism to my advantage,” said Madon, whose 40-yard dash time at the pro day was better than several tight ends invited to the NFL Draft Combine in February.
While EKU’s official athletics Web site has Madon listed at 6-5 and 252 pounds, he said he’s (actually) about 6-4 and 240 right now.
Madon — whose uncle Biff Madon was an All-American linebacker and 1976 OVC Defensive Player of the Year at Western Kentucky — last fall caught 34 passes for a team-high 456 yards, including three touchdown catches, for the Colonels, who finished with a 6-5 mark overall (5-3 OVC). One of the losses was a Lexington heartbreaker to Kentucky before a crowd of over 63,000 at the new Commonwealth Stadium in early October.
The Colonels were leading by two touchdowns with less than eight minutes left, but UK somehow bounced back, scoring two late TDs in the fourth quarter, and won 34-27 in overtime.
In the Kentucky matchup, Madon had two catches for 28 yards, including a 27-yarder in the fourth quarter.
It took Madon some time to recover from that disappointing setback. “(It was the) toughest loss of my career,” he said. “We wanted that game bad to prove that we can play with FBS schools.”
Two weeks later after the loss to UK, Madon had an outstanding performance, which turned out to be his most memorable moment at Eastern Kentucky. The tight end caught six passes for team-high 117 receiving yards, helping the Colonels to a 27-10 win over Southeast Missouri on the road.
By the way, at least three of his EKU teammates are also hoping to make noise in the NFL. Star defensive end Noah Spence, who formerly played at Ohio State, was taken as the No. 39 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Running back Dy’Shawn Mobley, the 2014 OVC Offensive Player of the Year who once played at UK, will be going to the Cincinnati Bengals as a priority free agent. Defensive back and return specialist Stanley Absanon has a rookie mini-camp tryout invitation with the Buccaneers.
During his Bell County High career, playing for then-head coach Dudley Hilton, Madon lined up at several positions — quarterback, safety, punter and kicker — and earned first-team all-state honors. He also helped Bell County capture 2008 Class 4A state title.
He excelled in basketball, too, leading the squad in scoring and helping coach Lewis Morris’ Bobcats earn their first trip to the state tournament at Rupp Arena in many years during his senior season. Madon was also named the 13th Region boys’ Player of the Year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches in 2011.
Madon had scholarship offers in both sports from many small colleges.
“No Division I school would take a chance on me coming out of high school, so I went with the team that showed me the most love and that was Lindsey Wilson (where he played for two years),” he said. “I later transferred to EKU as a walk on and earned a scholarship.”
After high school, he could have gone to the University of Pikeville where Hilton had taken the head coaching job in 2011.
“Well, Lindsey Wilson seemed like they were more interested in me to come there and they gave me a better offer,” Madon commented. “I love (UPike assistant) coach (Allan) Holland and he did a great job recruiting, but I just felt like it was time to go out on my own and prove to people that I can play. I just heard too many negative comments that I couldn’t make it at the college level, so I had to prove everyone wrong.”
Before transferring to EKU, he also talked to UPike.
“I did talk to him (Holland) after I left Lindsey Wilson, but I just wanted to try to play Division I football and see how my talent compared to Division I talent,” said Madon.
Growing up in Bell County, what was Madon’s favorite team in any sport?
“(I’ve) never really been a fan of anybody growing up, just loved the game of football and basketball,” he recalled. “But now looks like I’m a Colonel forever!”
Well, he could be a Raider forever, too.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at [email protected]