Philadelphia Eagles News

Why is Avonte Maddox always smiling?

Even during the worst moment of Avonte Maddox's young career, he found a way to smile.

The same smile he flashes after making a big play was the same smile he flashed while lying on a backboard in the cathedral of football, Lambeau Field, back in Week 4 during a Thursday night game against the Green Bay Packers.

Maddox's teammates gathered around him, hoping for a positive sign that everything was going to be OK. He gave them the signal they were looking for in the form of his signature grin that seems to be affixed to his face.

"They know how I am as a person," Maddox said. "I'm always smiling, always joking around. They know if they can get a smile out of me, then I'm at ease. Make sure they aren't worried about me. They still had a game to finish."

Finish is exactly what the Eagles' defense did on this night, as Maddox's replacement, Craig James, deflected an Aaron Rodgers pass into the air, which fell haplessly into the arms of linebacker Nigel Bradham to secure the win over the previously unbeaten Packers.

But as soon as the game was over, the concern immediately shifted back to Maddox, who was on his way to a local hospital while the game was being won. Once the players were on the team plane waiting to return to Philadelphia, the concern turned into optimism, as Maddox boarded the flight, flashing his pearly whites once again.

In real time, Maddox was sidelined for the next four weeks due to a concussion and neck injury. For Maddox, his time away from the field felt much longer. Understandable given it was the most significant injury he's suffered during his young career.

During his time of recovery, he'd be seen walking around the NovaCare Complex in a neck brace, still laughing and enjoying his teammates as if he had not a care in the world. Somehow, his positive disposition remained.

Smiling through adversity is something Maddox has become accustomed to during his 23 years of life, which included growing up in multiple households and avoiding the hazards that come with growing up in a hardened city like Detroit.

But through it all, Maddox has maintained a gregariousness that is easily recognized by anyone who crosses his path.

"He's got a lot of spirit, always in a good mood," defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said. "It helps as a coach when you have players like that who care and are in there every single day wanting to get better. It's easy to coach guys like that."

"That's just who he is," cornerback Rasul Douglas said. "He's always smiling."

Maddox's journey began on Detroit's East Side where his father, Michael, raised him as a single parent while living with his mother, Avonte's grandmother.

Like many of Detroit's residents, Maddox's father worked in the auto industry to make ends meet, waking up sometimes as early as 2 a.m. to provide for his family.

By the time Maddox was ready to enter middle school, his father was able to get a place of his own, so he moved with his son from Detroit's East Side to the west side of 6 Mile. Once Maddox entered high school, he moved out of his father's house and moved in with his father's aunt and uncle, who lived along 7 Mile.

There were plenty of traps to stumble upon in Maddox's neighborhoods, but with the help of his family, he managed to avoid them.

"It is rough – a rough neighborhood and high school, but it really all depends on what you want to do," Maddox said. "I never was a follower. I always made sure I did the right thing. That's why I'm here today, plus the people in my family like my dad and my uncle and my aunt."

To prevent him from succumbing to potential pitfalls around him, Maddox's family filled his schedule with activities. After football there was basketball. After basketball came baseball. There were even piano lessons.

That level of work ethic came directly from his family. His father still works overnight in the auto industry, his uncle owns a car battery shop called Dexter Battery Co., and his aunt, now retired, worked for Chrysler.

While Maddox benefited from a fortified support system, others around him were not so lucky. He witnessed the unfortunate consequences firsthand.

"I know a lot of guys just from my high school team that were pretty good, had good talent, but just didn't go anywhere because they were always getting caught up in something," he recalled.

While they were getting caught up in the street, Maddox was receiving numerous accolades as a three-sport athlete at Martin Luther King High School.

He spent his first two years playing only basketball and baseball despite the football coach's standing invitation to add football to his repertoire. Once his close friend and future Northern Illinois standout cornerback Jalen Embry transferred to Martin Luther King to play football, Maddox finally acquiesced and joined the team.

It didn't take much for Maddox to realize that his coaches were right to push him toward football. All it took was one touchdown for him to go, "Uh oh, this might be something."

Maddox lined up at running back and slot receiver on offense, and, of course, defensive back on defense. He even returned kicks. He caught 35 passes for 956 yards and 14 touchdowns with an astounding 27.3 yards per reception his senior season. Defensively, he caught four interceptions, returned two of them for touchdowns, and returned two punts for scores.

Despite being hailed as one of the best athletes in the state of Michigan, he was not recruited by the state's top two football programs, Michigan and Michigan State. Maddox didn't take the perceived slight personal. He turned it into another positive like he always does. He went to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was an All-ACC selection as a senior after producing 183 tackles, 42 pass deflections, eight interceptions, and seven sacks.

A fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2018, Maddox started nine games as a rookie, lining up at cornerback, nickel, and safety. He returned to action in the November 3 win over Chicago, playing in the slot.

No matter what, though, the smile remains.

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