It’s how he explains his unlikely path to the National Football League—a career he launched without ever having played a game of high school football—and it’s what he instills in the young athletes he mentors today through his John Madsen Performance training program.
“Dream big. Anything is truly possible. It happened for me. It could happen for anybody,” he told teen participants of Canyons District’s 7th annual Job Shadow Day. “And when you dream big, I want you to be a little unrealistic.”
Every year in February, a cohort of CSD students get a chance to spend half-a-day shadowing professionals in marketing, architecture, public works, medicine, or finance — to name just a few of the fields — and then network with their sponsors over lunch. This year, 89 students and 41 companies took part in the event, which marks the beginning of Career and Technical Education Month (CTE).
“By partnering with the business community, CTE programs prepare students for the workforce by exposing them to the technologies and job skills they’ll need,” said Janet Goble, Canyons District's CTE Director. Job Shadow Day is a natural extension of that, because it allows students to test-drive a profession, make early workforce connections and gain some “real world” experience.
The takeaway for some students is the realization that a given career is not the right fit, which allows them to re-direct course now before they enroll in college. But for those who remain firm in their aspirations, the experience can provide an inspirational boost.
On the path to career success, there will be critics who say, “it can’t be done,” said Madsen at the job shadow luncheon. But don’t listen, he said, recounting an experience from his youth.
All that Madsen could ever remember wanting to do was play professional sports. “Professional athlete” was what he wrote down for his No. 1 and No. 2 career picks on the career-planning survey he was asked to complete in seventh grade. “It never occurred to me that it wasn’t possible,” he said.
In truth, the odds were against Madsen succeeding. Only 6 percent of high school players play any kind of college football, and fewer than 3 percent make it to Division 1, said Madsen who didn't even play prep football, having focused instead on basketball and baseball. Nevertheless, he managed to talk his way onto the football team at Snow College, later transferring to the University of Utah where he thrived under Coach Urban Meyer’s tutelage. “I asked them for a shot. I asked them if they would just let me try out,” Madsen said.
Despite being sidelined by an injury his senior year of college, Madsen landed a spot on the Raiders as a free agent in 2006. He also later played for the Cleveland Browns.
Now, his life’s work is to deliver his message of perseverance to the “big dreamers” of today. To the promising, young athletes he trains, he says: Don’t listen to doubters, never give up and have the courage of your convictions. Paraphrasing Henry Ford, he says, “If you believe, you can, you can. If you believe you can’t, you can’t. Either way, you’re right.”
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