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Maddox’s Miracle: Rickertsen '100 percent ready to go'

By Jacob Knabel on Jun. 14, 2024 in Football

VIDEO: 10/11 News Story (February 11, 2024)

Something wasn’t right. Maddox Rickertsen had been losing weight and feeling under the weather for about a month when it suddenly hit him, literally. As one of the punt protectors on a play that occurred versus Briar Cliff on Sept. 30, 2023, Rickertsen had been bowled over and planted to the turf. While Briar Cliff celebrated a blocked punt that went for a touchdown, the Concordia sophomore native of Gothenburg, Neb., felt the pain of what he originally thought to be perhaps a broken rib.

That moment was about to lead Rickertsen on a harrowing journey that no one could have imagined. Someone of just 20 years of age isn’t supposed to experience this type of medical emergency.

Says Maddox, “I am very thankful for how that ended up. I know that it could have gone a lot worse. I was very lucky that I got hit in that game and it caused damage to the tumor to the point it was showing in other places. If they had never found it, it would have turned cancerous and it would have been a real bad situation. The fact that it was found was a miracle and then the fact they were able to take it out in one small procedure is pretty amazing. When I was back at home sick, I thought I would be done with football forever.”

The tumor that Rickertsen referred to was discovered in his colon early in the fall of 2023, following the hit he took in the Briar Cliff game. This past January, 10/11 News out of Lincoln caught wind of the story and sent reporter Madison Pitsch (Concordia alum) to campus to discuss the circumstances that have Rickertsen counting his blessings. The prayers and the support have turned around the fortunes of Rickertsen as he approaches his 21st birthday later this month. It’s the middle of June and Maddox is living and working in Lincoln while talking excitedly about the upcoming football season.

Just a few short months ago, Rickertsen did not know if he would be in such a position. Back in the fall, he made a visit to the emergency room at Seward Memorial Hospital. Maddox had called his dad to let him know, “I just don’t feel good.” It would take a follow-up before Dr. J.B. Ketner would ultimately order the colonoscopy that would lead to a surprising discovery. The root of Rickertsen’s weakness and discomfort was a tumor, roughly the size of an egg, situated in his colon.

Football would obviously have to take a backseat as a plan was put into place for an operation that would hopefully remove Maddox’s tumor. As part of an interview with 10/11, Dr. Sean Langenfeld of the University of Nebraska Medical Center relayed the gravity of the situation in saying, “A lot of stars aligned for us to discover a tumor before it had a chance to cause major problems in somebody of that age. This story turns out differently for most 20-year-olds who develop a colon tumor.”

The TV news story provided Maddox’s friends and teammates a deeper understanding of what it was he was going through. After Rickertsen left campus in the fall to battle the tumor, Head Football Coach Patrick Daberkow gave the team a brief explanation of what was happening. The ensuing outpouring of support meant a lot to Maddox, who leaned heavily upon his parents, Luke and Julie. For Maddox, the mental toll of the whole ordeal proved more taxing than any of the physical pain he endured.

“The mental part of it was more of the problem,” Rickertsen said. “You get pulled out of football season right in the middle of it and have to go home. That wasn’t easy. My family being home with me was huge. When I got back, it was awesome to be here with such a great group of welcoming guys. They were checking in and making sure I was good. My teammates have been a huge blessing. They helped me keep my head up. They knew how much it brought me down to have to miss football. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make the comeback like I did if I didn’t have a good support group – and that came from my family and friends.”

Eventually, the Briar Cliff player who ran through Rickertsen on that fateful play learned of the circumstances and reached out via Instagram. Said Maddox, “He basically said he hopes I’m doing well. He let me know who he was. It was kind of funny. He checked in and wished me well, so that was super nice.”

This past April 8 became another significant date for Rickertsen. It was the day Concordia began spring football practice – and Maddox was ready to put the pads on once again. It may have seemed like something routine for anyone else, but for Maddox there were emotions that began to hit. The next week, Maddox had the misfortune of pulling a hamstring, but it did nothing to deter his passion for the game or his anticipation for this coming fall.

The tweak was but a minor setback compared to the despair he had felt not long ago. Said Rickertsen, “When I was gearing up in the locker room and able to see all the guys, that’s when it felt real again. ‘Oh man, I’m going to get to play again.’ Every day, I think about how lucky I am to be able to get out there because I know how fast it was almost taken away. The whole process of putting the pads on and running out onto the field with the guys was awesome after missing out on a good portion of the (2023) season.”

Rickertsen continues to progress as a tight end and special teams performer for the Bulldogs. He’s back to being a full participant in offseason training and weightlifting while returning to a sense of normal. Most importantly, a scope this spring showed a clean bill of health. The tumor has not grown back and the scar from the operation is healing as his doctor had hoped. His outlook has improved to the point that he will only need a once-per-year scope moving forward, instead of two or three scopes per year as the doctor originally advised.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Maddox says. “I’m starting to gain some weight back and get my strength back. With the mental part too, I’m starting to get back to where I was. I feel better physically and mentally than I did back in the fall, that’s for sure. I’m able to get my workouts in and I’m 100 percent ready to go this fall.”

Clearly, Maddox was determined to get back to playing football. Whether he comprehends it or not, his story has the power to be an inspiration to many others. As his mother Julie told 10/11, “He’s determined to use this for good – and not just in football. I really hope he gets to be back on the field, and I hope he stays healthy. I hope that his scope in April is clean and that we get to move forward, but I just can’t wait to see what he gets to do as a person and the lives he gets to influence because of this.”

Says Maddox, “The biggest lesson I learned is don’t take football or anything in life for granted. I was playing football one day and the next day I thought I was done forever because they found a tumor in my colon. That definitely changes my outlook on things and the way I attack the gym every day. I realized how fast things like that can be taken away from you. It’s important to soak up the time when you have it.”