ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - He was an Albuquerque prep football star with a bright future and dreams of the NFL.
But a devastating injury followed by bad decision after bad decision threw Jonathan Mader into a downward spiral that eventually landed him at rock bottom.
Wednesday, the 23-year-old sits behind bars at the Metropolitan Detention Center, pondering a new mission in life.
"No one sees themselves in these oranges," Mader told KRQE News 13 during a recent jailhouse interview. "Adversity introduces a man to himself."
While that mantra is pushing him to make better decisions in his young life, adversity was the furthest thing from his mind while growing up in Albuquerque surrounded by football.
"I was highly influenced by my brothers and cousins growing up," Mader said. "Football was almost required. My uncle was a coach. My dad was a coach. I remember going to their high school games every year on Friday nights and I was the ball boy."
By the time the chubby fullback who started playing for the YAFL Peewees at 8-years-old became the starting quarterback at Cibola High School. He stood a 6-foot-4-inches tall, towering over most other athletes in the city. That's because Mader didn't just excel at football.
He was also a basketball and track star, and was named was named the Albuquerque Metro's Player of the Year in 2008. His future seemed limitless, with football as the main focus.
"I took a few visits," Mader said. "I went to Arizona State, UTEP, New Mexico State."
But for Mader, there wasn't much question where he was going to play college football.
"Growing up as a kid, and not having a pro team in Albuquerque, the Lobos were pretty big time," Mader said. "I really embraced the thought as I got older of playing in front of my hometown – my family, my friends, my coaches, teachers, everything like that."
But playing for the Lobos wasn't the idyllic Shan-gri-la Mader envisioned. He redshirted his freshman year. Then, new head Coach Mike Locksley was hired and persuaded the quarterback to switch positions and play tight end.
Mader said he wasn't thrilled about the change, but he was ready to do whatever it took to play and get noticed by the pros. But right before his first season as a starter, at the beginning of his junior year, the unthinkable happened during a pickup game of basketball.
"Paramedics and doctors said it was the worst ankle injury they've ever seen," Mader said. "The bone had ripped through the skin and left my foot helplessly hanging to the right. Right then, I had that feeling that my college career might be coming to an end."
Mader said that sparked the downward spiral.
"I kind of shut everyone out of my life," Mader said. "(I) really was just unmotivated and kept convincing myself that I couldn't play anymore."
He turned to drugs and alcohol.
"After the injury, it became a way to mask the pain, both physically and emotionally," he said.
His grades slipped, he lost his scholarship and he left the Lobo football team. Then, the real trouble began.
Mader was arrested in the winter of 2010 for disorderly conduct and a minor in possession of alcohol. Then last year, he pleaded guilty to DWI and was put on probation, before he was arrested again earlier this year for drunken driving.
Above all else, Mader said regrets hurting his family the most.
"They did everything for me, growing up and kind of set the stage perfect," Mader said. "I kind of blew it."
But while life may seem grim for the former star athlete, Mader said he's taking responsibility for his mistakes and has a new plan for his life.
"No one wants to come to jail," he said. "But sometimes, that's the only way that God can get through some stubborn people like myself."
He's currently enrolled in an alcohol treatment program at MDC, and hopes to one day help young people avoid the pitfalls he fell into.
"(I'd like to be a) counselor or a social worker (or an) exercise psychologist, where I can impact people based on my experiences," Mader said. "What you do today is important because you're exchanging a day of your life for it – a day that you're never going to get back."
Mader is currently serving a 90-day sentence at MDC for violating his probation. He is set to complete the alcohol treatment program next week.
"I can only go up from here," he said.
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