BLACKSBURG — In his mind, Luther Maddy had a schedule to keep.
When the defensive tackle got serious about football in high school, he aimed at a Division I scholarship. When he got to Virginia Tech, he targeted a starting spot. When he thrived early on with the Hokies, his goal became the NFL, even if he declined to pursue that path early after his junior season.
So when Maddy tore the meniscus in his right knee and required surgery during his first shot at his senior season in 2014, it left the defensive tackle with time to think, to reflect, to reconnect with his faith.
In short, it allowed him time to finally develop some patience.
“I always wanted to get things done on my timing, get things at a certain point of time,” Maddy said. “I didn’t understand the true meaning of patience. I learned to really let things grow on your own time or on God’s time.”
Maddy, a fifth-year senior who was voted a first-team All-ACC player by the media this fall, is now the picture of patience. It’s the only way he could have lasted this long, preparing to play in his 56th college game at the Independence Bowl, which will break long snapper Collin Carroll’s Virginia Tech record of 55 games played.
“It’s crazy for an interior lineman to be getting that record,” Maddy said. “In the trenches, it’s tough in there.”
It will be Maddy’s 46th career start, just two shy of the school mark held by offensive lineman Billy Conaty, a remarkable and unlikely run for an under-the-radar recruit who was a last-second addition to the Hokies’ 2011 class who has since become a consummate leader.
“He’s made out of the right stuff,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “The guy that’s talking before the team needs to have the respect of the team, needs to be a guy that can play ... and needs to be team-first, have a good heart — Luther’s all those. Just glad he’s been in our program.”
Maddy’s path from Delray Beach, Florida, to Virginia Tech has been recounted many times over the years and is usually framed with fellow Haitian and Hokies defensive lineman Dadi Nicolas’ similar journey to Blacksburg. But he and Nicolas, while close friends at Virginia Tech, weren’t in the tightest of circles until late in their high school careers.
It was Maddy, the son of Haitian immigrants, who early on avoided the pitfalls of Delray Beach, seeing the benefits of getting to college and finding a path out.
“Delray’s a tough area, especially these last couple years,” Maddy said. “Shootings, just guys being reckless, being stupid, being ignorant. A lot of fighting, killings. Guys that I know have passed away, friends that I’ve known since high school in jail like that. So being from Florida is rough, so you need to find a way to separate yourself.
“I had my moments also when I was younger. I was never really that crazy kid. I was never a criminal or nothing like that, but I definitely had times where I could have gone in the wrong direction. But my parents and people around me helped influence in the right direction.”
Football became an outlet. Maddy didn’t get serious about it until he was a senior at frequent Hokies pipeline Atlantic High, realizing it was an opportunity to get a scholarship. He wound up at Virginia Tech after a late recruiting push and thrived in his new environment, starting 16 games during his first two years.
After posting back-to-back two-sack games against Duke and Clemson as a sophomore, he realized his pass rushing ability from the interior could mean an NFL future. As a junior, he led a veteran line with 13.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks and briefly considering jumping to the next level but ultimately deciding against it.
Three games into his senior season, however, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery and forced him to get a medical redshirt. Disappointing at the time, it grounded him, causing him to slow down and accept that sometimes things are out of his hands.
With a newfound attitude, Maddy also renewed his faith, speaking more with the team’s chaplain about God and, while still on crutches, getting baptized in a whirlpool in Virginia Tech’s training facility, a fitting blending of faith, family and football.
“Maybe it was because I had so much success my junior year, I didn’t really call to God as much as I used to,” Maddy said. “And the next thing you know, my senior year I got hurt. So I think it’s just a sign from God just to remain with him at all times, not just when you need him. But at all times, even when you are doing good.”
Maddy does plenty of that. He volunteers his time liberally, whether it’s to Boys & Girls clubs and elementary schools or just paying visits to those in need, like when he stopped by a Blacksburg retirement village this summer to meet with an elderly fan of his named Louise, who suffered a terrible fall and had a variety of health problems.
He’s a graduate with a purpose, knowing that football has a shelf life. It’s why he has a backup plan, having interned the last three summers leasing apartments, with an eventual goal being to own a property management company that provides quality housing to low-income individuals, much like the area in which he grew up.
But he still wants to achieve the NFL life that he put on hold two years ago. After last year’s injury, Maddy attacked the offseason but paced his rehab, not rushing his lower body that much during the recovery and adding ample upper body strength. He benched 450 pounds last winter.
He returned as a galvanizing force in the middle of the Hokies’ defense — with the way he played, sure, but also as a soft-spoken, by-example leader.
“I think he’s grown into that role,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “And you have to hope that [players] are the total package in terms of doing what’s right when nobody’s looking. Doing what’s right in the classroom. So you hope that your better players have those kind of characteristics, and in Luther’s case, that’s all built over time.”
Finally healthy this fall, Maddy had 54 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks, not quite his junior year numbers but good enough to earn All-ACC honors and get him back on the NFL track.
“I definitely think I did fall off the radar just during the preseason and stuff like that,” Maddy said. “Guys kind of forgot about me because I got hurt, or they weren’t really confident about me coming back from the injury. I thought about that throughout the season. That kept me going, helped me play harder every game. I just went out there and poured my heart out on the field and it ended up working out for the better with my play.”
Maddy’s realistic about his NFL chances, knowing he’s not a first-rounder . But he thinks he’ll be a mid- to-late-round pick and latch on with a team, hoping to play as long as he can.
His NFL showcase begins this week at the Independence Bowl and then in late January at the East-West Shrine Game, a delayed path to the next level but one he sees as beneficial in the long run.
Patience pays off, after all.
“I know it’s all in God’s plan and I’m more mature now,” Maddy said. “I feel like I got stronger and I’m more experienced in a lot of ways. I’m thinking right now is just a perfect time for this transition.”