DIVISION II FINALS: Sabers’ McGrath making most of senior year
AMHERST – There’s something about a high school athlete when they become a senior.
A lot of them feel they want to save their best for last.
We give you exhibit A, Souhegan High School receiver/free safety Madux McGrath.
McGrath is having an exceptional senior year, helping out the Saber offense as a receiver but his defensive work has been stellar, as he covers a lot of ground in leading the team in tackles as they prepare for Saturday’s Division II championship game vs. Pelham at Bedford’s Bulldog Stadium.
His approach over the summer may be the key.
“I’d say I put in more work, definitely,” McGrath said. “I’d go to 7 on 7s, and I’ve been trying my hardest this year. We have what it takes to win this game, and I knew our team was good enough to make it this far.
“I wanted to be the best player I could, not for myself, but for my team, so we could have a great season.”
And at 10-1, with the only loss coming to Pelham and the team in the finals, that has come to fruition. Thanks in part to his play.
“Senior year is a little bit different for some players, and their level of confidence goes through the roof,” Souhegan coach Robin Bowkett said. “And their confidence matches their ability. He’s just been solid out, and isnt’ afraid to tackle, and covers a lot of ground in the pass game. So clutch for us. And he’s having a lot of fun doing it. … He’s just been so dynamic.”
But first, there was hard work.
“All my free time, getting to the turf, throwing with Romy (QB Jain), meeting with teamates,” McGrath said was his summer routine.
It’s no surprise, because football has always been a big part of McGrath’s life. He’s played ever since he can remember, mainly with the Amherst Patriots youth team before high school. And the success he’s had this year has him thinking about continuing to play after high school.
“I’ve been thinking about it more and more, and I definitely do want to play in college,” he said, adding he wants to study something to do with science, and has begun putting together a highlight tape for recruiting.
But first, there’s one more game to play, and he can help the Sabers in a number of different ways. He likes his role as a receiver more than playing defense, but he’s acquired more of a taste for the other side of the ball as the season has gone on.
“Defense is also really enjoyable for me, making big plays every once in awhile,” he said. “It’s so fun.”
He had been a corner, but last year the Sabers switched him to free safety, and he has been all over the field, where he has a team high 108 total tackles.
“I like the freedom I have almost,” McGrath said. “I love being able to read everything because I can see everything from that spot. So I can just see everything that’s happening, read the receivers, even read pulling guards and run downhill, making plays.”
McGrath has been what the Sabers felt he would be when they moved him there.
“We talk about it often, we’ve had some great players there,” Bowkett said. “I think the one thing that Madux brings, he’s 6-2, 175, 180 pounds. Just having that kind of physicaly presence there has been a little bit different. He doesn’t have any interceptions this year, which is kind of funny, because he led our team in interceptions last year.”
Madux also punts, and is one of the best receivers, in Bowkett’s mind, in Division II.
In college, he’d still prefer offense, “but I’d be perfectly fine with defense.” But Bowkett says if he were recruiting him, “I’d recruit him as an athlete because he can play both. He’s just a great football player.”
Sabers QB Romy Jain says McGrath makes it tough for him in practice when he’s on defense.
“He’s a crazy athlete,” he said. “He be on one side of the ball and then he’ll go make the play on the other side of the field. That’s just how he is.”
And Jain loves throwing to McGrath as well, as the senior has 23 receptions for 541 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I can put it wherever,” Jain said, “and he’ll go get it for me.”
Actually, in his youth football days, McGrath was always a running back. But as a freshman, at the first few Saber practices, the coaches just had the players go to whatever position they wanted. And he figured he’d try receiver, and especially now, at 6-foot-1, 170, “I always figured I was built more like a receiver than a running back.”
And once he started playing the position, he loved it. “I love running routes and catching the ball, any way I can get it,” he said. “And from what I see from other teams, throwing the ball is tougher. But I have a great QB.”
“Our coaches say he’s got these ‘Hamburger Helper hands’,” Bowkett said. “He’s got these mitts, and he’s got such a wide range. His wing span is really big. He jumps out of the gym, he’s a hoop playr. You just put the ball in his area, and you figure he’s going to come down with it. Especailly the high balls. But he caught a slant ball on a third-and-14 (in Saturday’s semis) that was down under his knees.”
Bowkett says McGrath can get himself open, but the way he tracks balls is superb, that if a ball is in his direction, “he’s going to come down with it.”
A total player, who has progressed the way the Sabers have the last two years after a senior laden team won the title in 2020.
At free safety, McGrath was ready to learn. He’d go over things with assistant Brandon O’Connell. “He was on me every play, we’d go over film and he’d show me what I could do better,” McGrath said. “And I’ve been watching myself lately too. Every play on defense, I’d say, ‘Oh, I could have done this better’ and I work on it in practice.”
“He matured, and his confidence (did also),” Bowkett said. “He was a solid JV player his freshman and sophomore year. Then last year he made the jump (to varsity), slowly got into it, and then it wa ‘Madux keeps making plays.’
“He seems more invested. It just naturally clicks for some kids. … He’s just kind of grown in all facets. He’s always had the ability; once his confidence matched that he’s been awesome.”
McGrath says he watches “a crazy amount of film” and that has certainly helped, a lot of it opposing team tape during his free periods and free times.
“For hours,” he said. “I’ll watch formations and see if I can read anything in-game. In a game, I’ll see a formation, and think, ‘These are the only plays they run off this’ and then I’ll see a guard pulling and it will bring me right to the ball.”
Playing the two positions has helped make him better at both. So has his experience at cornerback; he can tell which way opposing defensive backs want to force him to go.
Bowkett knows he has a player who fits the energy mold the Sabers have, and it’s enjoyable for him to watch.
“He comes off the field yelling ‘Fun! This is fun! ‘”, the coach said of McGrath. “Guys get thrown to the fire, and it makes things a lot of fun their senior year.
There’s nothing like having fun in your senior year. Just ask Madux McGrath.