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From Cleats to Controllers

The Strong Connection and Dual Disciplines Between High School Football and Madden.

Jan 25, 2024

From the heights of traditional high school sports to the rapidly evolving world of scholastic esports, a unique breed of athletes is emerging—high school football players who not only dominate the gridiron but also showcase their football skills off the field, competing on their school’s esports teams in Madden NFL 24. In speaking to these multi-sport athletes, a common theme emerged – the skills honed and knowledge on the football field and in Madden have served as invaluable assets in the realm of Madden. These players embody a connection between traditional sports and esports, showcasing how the discipline, teamwork, and strategic thinking cultivated in football become the secret weapons in their esports competition as well. 

We recently had the opportunity to interview several dual players across the country to highlight not only the duality of their talents but also the strong relationship between the two sports that propels them to excellence.

TJ Jones -  Cook High School - Georgia

TJ Jones, a standout football athlete at Cook High School in Georgia, found a new way to study the game when he was introduced to the esports program through his quarterback, Drew, who recommended joining the gaming club. The prospect of playing Madden competitively aligned perfectly with TJ's passion for the game, considering he already played Madden daily.

TJ embarked on his football journey at the tender age of four. It was his father who introduced him to the sport, placing a football in his hands without much awareness of what the game entailed. Now competing as a middle linebacker turned tight end, TJ cherishes every moment he has on the field. As the football season progresses, TJ juggles his commitments between the gridiron and the esports room seamlessly, with Thursday walkthroughs leading right into Madden competitions.

Having started playing Madden on the Wii and transitioning to Xbox 360 and then to PlayStation 4, TJ's experience with the game spans several years. In Madden NFL 24, TJ likes to compete with the Giants for their versatility, showcasing his strategic approach to team selection. His game strategy involves a meticulous first drive to assess opponents' defensive tactics and identify their favorite plays.

Competing in both sports, TJ started to realize the similarities between football and Madden. Playing Madden has enhanced TJ's understanding of defensive formations, coverage areas, and strategic thinking, translating seamlessly to his performance on the football field. Conversely, TJ's real-life football experience influences his Madden gameplay, particularly in being a middle linebacker and understanding defensive concepts. The connection between the two sports goes beyond gameplay; TJ finds inspiration in Madden YouTuber QJB, whose content fueled his interest in Madden.

TJ's advice for fellow high school football players who may be interested in competing in Madden is simple: if you love playing football and enjoy the game, join the esports team—it's an opportunity for growth without losing anything.

Clark Rexroat - Hart County High School - Kentucky

Clark's love for football and Madden stems from his early days, playing football-oriented video games since third grade. The strategic and competitive aspects of Madden became particularly engaging during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading him to compete in EA Weekend League tournaments. His introduction to the Esports team was during its inaugural year, and his football coach, who also coached the Esports team, noticed his skills during a camp. Encouraged to give it a try, Clark discovered he was better at Madden than anticipated, setting the stage for his journey in both sports.

Representing his high school in Madden introduced a unique pressure and made him busier than ever, but the challenge was met with enthusiasm. The time commitment balancing Madden tournaments and football practices is seamlessly managed, with Clark often transitioning straight from Thursday football walkthroughs to esports competitions. The unexpected support and camaraderie within the Esports community became a pleasant surprise, and winning a state championship added an extra layer of excitement to his journey.

In Madden, Clark strategically selects the Chiefs for their superior lineup, utilizing players like Mahomes and Kelce. Defensively, he favors the four-six playbook for its diverse pass coverage schemes. Reflecting on his strategies, Clark emphasizes the importance of assessing opponents' tendencies and adjusting gameplay accordingly.

For Clark, the cross-over between real-life football and Madden became evident when he learned to read coverages, identify open zones, and apply defensive and blocking schemes to his play on the football field.  Participating in Madden has contributed significantly to Clark's personal growth, enhancing his critical thinking and focus under pressure. The virtual chess game that Madden represents has parallels with real-life football, fostering an improved understanding of strategy and being able to think one move ahead. Legendary players like Peyton Manning inspire. 

As Clark navigates the intersection between Madden and football, his journey highlights the reciprocal benefits, proving that skills acquired in one sport seamlessly transfer to enhance performance in the other.

Nash Harman and Braxon Hughes, Cyril High School - Oklahoma 

For Nash Harman, the decision to join the Esports program was fueled by friends who persuaded him to give Madden a shot. Having been an avid video game enthusiast, he embraced the idea of playing Madden and soon found himself competing at a high level. The esports experience has added a layer of enjoyment to his high school years, allowing him to engage in gaming activities after traditional sports and forge connections with peers. 

Braxon Hughes, Nash's teammate, shares a similar sentiment. His entry into the Esports realm was guided by a long-standing passion for video games. Playing Madden since Madden NFL 16, Braxon transitioned from Ultimate Team to school competitions, focusing on refining his skills. His team choices include the Chargers for offense and the Dallas Cowboys for defense, demonstrating a strategic approach in both virtual and real-life football. 

Representing their school in Madden brings a sense of pride and camaraderie. The Esports program provides an avenue for Nash and Braxon to showcase their skills, and the opportunity to get out of school to participate is an added bonus.

When facing new opponents in Madden, Nash and Braxon adopt strategic approaches. Nash prefers starting with a running game to gauge the opponent's defensive style, while Braxon initiates with a pass defense to understand the opponent's offensive tendencies. This tactical flexibility is a testament to their adaptability, honed through both real football and Madden experiences.

In real-life football, Nash plays quarterback and safety, showcasing versatility, while Braxton takes on the roles of tight end and linebacker. Their on-field experiences significantly contribute to their Madden gameplay, with Nash highlighting the ability to read coverages as a key skill acquired from playing both sides of the ball. As both Nash and Braxon balance football practices with Madden competitions, their dedication is evident. Rushing from football practices to engage in Esports tournaments, they manage their time effectively, demonstrating a commitment to both passions.

For Nash and Braxon, the transition from the football field to the esports lab to compete in Madden this season comes with an additional challenge. After former teammate Cody Young earned a college scholarship last year to compete in Madden at Rogers State, both have much to prove. Off Cody’s success, both are highly aware that the potential for scholarships in esports adds a significant dimension to their high school experience.

This past Fall, Nash Harman won the OSSAA State Championship in Madden and was named District Offensive Player of the Year in real football!

Jonah Harris - Vancleave High School - Mississippi 

Jonah's football journey commenced just last year when he sought a new sport to fill his free time, having transitioned from basketball. Intrigued by football since he was very young, he hesitated initially but took the plunge. Playing as a tight end and flexibly shifting positions on defense, Jonah found his groove in the game. One standout moment etched in his memory was during a District game when his coach trusted him with a crucial play, resulting in a touchdown that solidified his passion for the sport.

Incredibly, Jonah’s entry into Madden was inspired by a desire to learn more about football, scrolling through YouTube, and stumbling upon Madden NFL 17. The subsequent Christmas’ brought Jonah on a Madden journey from editions ‘18 up to ‘24. Playing various teams, including favorites like the Ravens, Raiders, Rams, and more, Jonah exhibits versatility in his strategic approach. Notably, the familiarity with virtual plays from Madden allows Jonah and his football teammates to grasp real-life football strategies more efficiently, creating a shared language between the coach and players. Madden often eliminates the need for extensive explanations from the coach since Jonah already grasps various plays and strategies. The joy of Madden for Jonah lies in the challenge, the strategic depth, and the ability to adapt, mirroring the unpredictability of actual football games.

With the football season behind him, Jonah is gearing up for Madden Esports this spring. His preparation involves more online play, acclimating to different playstyles, and fine-tuning his strategies. Jonah's decision to join the esports team stemmed from his love for Madden and the confidence gained from dominating friends in head-to-head matchups. Be sure to look out for Jonah this season in Mississipi. 

Nathan and Nolan Gordons - Sylacauga High School - Alabama 

Nathan and Nolan Gordons, twin brothers, have seamlessly blended their love for both Madden and football into a winning combination. For Nathan, Madden entered his life as a Christmas gift in 2013, sparking a passion for controlling every aspect of the game. With a love for football already in place, Madden became a playground for exploring the intricacies of the sport from a broader perspective. Nolan, initially less interested in football, joined the Madden world to compete against his brother, finding the thrill of rivalry and the joy of mastering the game.

For these two football players,  Madden isn't merely a game; it's a strategic simulator where the brothers fine-tune their understanding of defensive formations, offensive plays, and opponent analysis. Nathan, donning roles as a tight end, defensive end, and linebacker in real football, translates his on-field experiences into Madden's strategy. Meanwhile, Nolan, having switched from offensive line to tight end, draws parallels between his Madden offensive line strategies and real-life blocking techniques. The virtual platform becomes an extension of the football field, allowing him to refine his skills and adapt his gameplay based on insights gained from physical play.

Coming off the end of their football season this past Fall,  this Spring season will mark their debut on the esports team at Sylacauga High School. Excited about the opportunity to face new competitors and test their skills at a higher level, the brothers are eager to bring their Madden prowess to the school's Esports platform. As the brothers navigate through the busy high school sports calendar, juggling football, Madden, and even baseball, time management becomes crucial. While Nathan expresses interest in seeing how the Madden esports competition unfolds, Nolan plans to evaluate the situation as he balances multiple sports commitments.

The Gordons encourage fellow football players to give Madden a shot, emphasizing the fun and learning experiences it offers. The Madden world, though different, provides unique insights that can enhance overall football knowledge.


Hearing from these players, it is very clear that the discipline, endurance, and tactical acumen forged in football find a natural extension in the precision and strategic finesse required in Madden. Conversely, the quick decision-making and adaptability demanded by esports become hidden assets on the football turf. These athletes exemplify a holistic approach to sportsmanship, where the lessons learned in one domain enhance their prowess in the other.