“Future bright for former QB"
Second Prize - $5,000
Ryan Squanda is a 21-year-old journalism student at Michigan State University and will be a senior in the 2015-16 school year. He currently serves as a reporter for The State News, MSU's student newspaper. Prior to that, he was a MSU basketball and football beat writer for www.isportsweb.com for two years. There, he was also given the opportunity to write online guest articles for the Detroit Free Press.
Reprinted with permission. The Detroit Free Press; Detroit, MI.
It’s been a long two years for Andrew Maxwell.
Two years that have taken him on a ride from being the starting quarterback at a Big Ten University, to being the scapegoat in a difficult 2012 season, to being the guy pacing the sidelines as his team went on to a 13-1 record and Rose Bowl Championship season.
It’s not your typical storybook ending.
But yet, nearing the end of those two years, in the confines of Michigan State University’s Kedzie Hall, there was Maxwell, the former starting quarterback of the Michigan State football team, sharing a story nonetheless.
In a meeting with a campus ministry group known as the Spartan Christian Fellowship (SCF), Maxwell spoke in front of well over 100 college students, sharing the story of the past two years of his life and the three things it had come to be centered around: Football, Frustration, and Faith.
“I’m not mad at anybody,” Maxwell said at the beginning of his talk on April 1.
“I’m not here to play the blame game. I didn’t bring a big old axe to grind up here with me just so I can finally air out everything I’ve been wanting to say. That’s not why I came.”
What did you expect?
That was the question proposed by Maxwell throughout his talk with SCF.
For Maxwell, it’s a question he’s had to ask himself over the course of the past couple of years, as he certainly had a lot of expectations when he first stepped foot on campus as a freshman back in 2009.
Upon his initial arrival in East Lansing, the 6-foot-3, 210 lb. quarterback from Midland, Michigan knew he would have to sit behind sophomore quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol for three years. However, it was something he had expected and it something he was okay with doing.
“I was okay with that because the last three quarterbacks who played for Michigan State played in the NFL,” Maxwell said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I said ‘This seems like a no-brainer. I’ll play for two years. That’s plenty of football. I’ll play well. We’ll just kind of stroll right into the NFL.’”
But when he finally got his chance to start in 2012, Maxwell’s life did not play out to his expectations, as all his previous aspirations began to unravel before him.
Maxwell didn’t expect to throw three interceptions in his first career start against Boise State.
He didn’t expect to go through a tough 7-6 season in 2012 and lose five games by a combined 13 points.
He didn’t expect to see the hateful criticism from fans, day-in and day-out on Twitter.
It was also during this time that Maxwell began questioning God for some of the things that were happening in his life.
“After the 2012 season, after the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, after my first full season starting, I felt like I’d been ripped off,” Maxwell said. “I’m sitting there and I’m going through all of this and I’m thinking ‘Okay God, I’m Christian now, I know you’ve saved me, I know you’ve given me grace. I know you’ve given me Jesus. Man, but it sure doesn’t feel like grace is enough right now. I know you tell me that your grace is sufficient but it’d really be nice if I didn’t have all these tweets. And it’d really be nice if we could win a couple more games. And it’d really be nice if I had a little more success.’”
“I felt like I paid my dues. I felt like I played pretty well," Maxwell continued. "I thought my circumstances lined up and I thought that led to a certain future and clearly it did not. I wanted more out of football. I wanted more out of people and worst of all, I wanted more out of God.”
Handling It With Class
After his backup QB - Connor Cook - played well in relief of Maxwell in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and after Cook once again rivaled his play in the 2013 spring game, it was clear that there was a quarterback controversy on the hands of the Michigan State coaching staff.
Still though, after a long summer and fall of an extended quarterback battle, the 2013 season rolled around and MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio announced before the Spartan’s first game against Western Michigan that he was sticking with his senior: Maxwell would remain the starter.
However, that start would prove to be the last of Maxwell’s college career. In the game against Western Michigan, Maxwell continued to struggle, and Cook came into the game and once again gave the Spartans a change of pace. Cook took the starting job the next week against South Florida and kept it through the end of the season, leading the Spartans to the Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championships along the way.
For the remainder of the season, Maxwell returned to the field only for a miserable four-and-out drive at the end of a loss to Notre Dame - the Spartan’s lone blemish on an otherwise perfect season - and a few end-of-game kneel downs, which included the season’s final play, when he took a knee in victory formation in the Spartan’s 24-20 Rose Bowl victory over the Stanford Cardinal.
Throughout the 2013 season, Maxwell was praised by Dantonio for the way he had handled everything that had been thrown at him, and how he had handled it all with class. For Maxwell, it was his unwavering Christian faith which helped him through his senior year. It was during the stressful times of the intense quarterback battle that Maxwell turned to a Bible passage he would read every night.
The Bible verse which provided Maxwell with the most reassurance came from Psalm 4:7: “Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.”
That verse reminded Maxwell that the Lord had filled him with much more joy than the sport of football ever could. In addition to this, Maxwell also felt comfort in something he had learned from former Michigan State starting quarterback - and now Washington Redskins quarterback - Kirk Cousins: that football doesn’t ultimately define who you are as a person.
“(Kirk and I) can both confidently say that our identities are not in football,” Maxwell said. “Our identities are in Jesus. And what that means is that whether football is going poorly or whether it’s going well or you had a really good senior season, you didn’t play your senior year, you got drafted and now you’re a big time NFL quarterback or not... that doesn’t change your identity. That doesn’t change who you are. Those are just changes in circumstances.”
One part of Maxwell’s identity that he remained true to though, even after losing his job as the starting quarterback, was his role as a leader of the team. Throughout the entire season, Maxwell continued to support his teammates and did whatever he could to help the Spartans succeed.
Validating these sentiments were a pair of former teammates seated in the front row of the lecture hall the night of Maxwell’s talk, both of whom showed up to hear what their friend had to say.
“He just sets a great example for everybody on how to really walk your faith,” former MSU walk-on linebacker Danny Folino said after hearing Maxwell speak.
“It’s pretty cool to see him inspire all these people that came to watch him speak today, ” said Folino, who has known Maxwell since the two were suitemates their freshmen year.
For former MSU fullback Niko Palazeti, who was forced to retire prior to the 2013 season due to injury problems, seeing the way Maxwell handled the past two years was a huge inspiration for him.
“He’s (had) a tremendous impact in my life and my Christian life,” Palazeti said. “Any time a quarterback who is such a spotlighted figure takes such a verbal stance in his faith, it gives other people confidence to step out and be Christian leaders and be men of faith and he’s done a great job at providing that inspiration and providing that leadership.”
“He’s been a huge inspiration to me," Palazeti continued. "I’ve had a lot stuff extra in my career and watching him go through it and seeing how he handled it with such grace and such class and how he really relied on God... it’s been an awesome impact on me.”
At some point during the spring of Maxwell’s junior year, a web of connections linked him up with Jon Saunders, 32, a former MSU student and current director of the Spartan Christian Fellowship.
Soon after, Maxwell and a couple of other members of the football team were invited over to Saunders’ home for dinner. From there, Maxwell and Saunders hit it off, as the two met weekly throughout the summer and fall, having one-on-one discussions with each other about God and their faith.
Upon his graduation from Michigan State in the fall of 2013, Maxwell needed a place to stay as he prepared for the NFL Draft. With the relationship he had built with Saunders over the course of all the time they had spent together, Maxwell said approaching Saunders and asking him if he could stay at his house for awhile was an easy thing to do.
As Saunders and Maxwell grew closer together, they agreed that Maxwell would make his way to one of SCF’s large group meetings on a Tuesday night to share his story.
“We both thought he wants to talk about what Jesus has done (for him),” Saunders said. “He gets excited about that and wants to make it known on campus and it just seemed like a real natural thing for us to pull off together.”
“He’s a role model for little kids and for college students as well,” Saunders said. “I think he’s the real deal. Everything that people read in the paper and see on TV, he’s completely consistent in real life."
Even though Maxwell acknowledges that playing in the NFL might not happen for him, he also says that's not something he sees stopping him from making an impact in other people’s lives.
“What the next chapter of my life looks like, it might be football. It might not,” Maxwell said. “But I guess something that I’ve been learning about Jesus lately is that He transcends vocations. He transcends jobs. He transcends circumstances.”
“Whether I’m an NFL quarterback, whether I’m a janitor at a church, whether I’m managing a team of business professionals - I can be just as Christian doing those things as I can on the mission field because He transcends all those," Maxwell said.
Nearly everyone that followed Maxwell's career at MSU would agree that it ended awkwardly - and certainly did not come with any sort of a positive storybook ending. But Maxwell would tell those people, like he told a hundred students in Kedzie Hall last week, that the story that really matters - his future and his faith - is just now beginning.
Published on www.isportsweb.com, April 7, 2014
Link to article: http://archive.freep.com/article/20140407/SPORTS07/304070041/isportsweb-Future-bright-former-Michigan-State-QB-Andrew-Maxwell
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