BELTON — Belton senior Wriley Madden has been playing defense for only eight games, but it’d be hard to believe based on the impact he has made.
Though the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has been on varsity since his sophomore season, most of his previous experience was at quarterback.
Before this year, in fact, Madden spent almost all of his time behind center since he began playing football as a youth in Midlothian, save for a brief stint at safety in middle school when, by that time, he had settled in Belton where he has been since fourth grade.
“It was nothing serious,” Madden said of his time as a defensive back. “This is my first time being serious about (playing defense). And I think it’s worked out pretty well.”
Worked out well, it has.
Madden has piled up 60 tackles, good for second on the team, including a combined 18 stops the last two weeks in key wins against Killeen Ellison and Killeen Shoemaker, the last of which sealed Belton’s first playoff berth since 2018.
The Tigers (5-4, 4-2 District 12-6A) finish the regular season tonight when they host Killeen (2-7, 0-6) at 7:30 at Tiger Field.
Following Madden’s junior season, which saw him split time at receiver and quarterback, Belton coaches looked at ways to fit their defense to their personnel. It led to the creation of a new position, which they dubbed the Tiger-Back, a hybrid linebacker-defensive back.
They figured Madden would fit the part, so they asked him if he’d be interested in making the move.
“He was one of the first kids we thought of when we decided to go that direction,” Belton defensive coordinator Christopher Harbin said. “When he was at receiver, we saw he wasn’t afraid of contact. Seeing it on our side of the ball, if you’re willing to hit, that’s a big part of it.”
Their intuition was right in multiple ways. Not only did Madden welcome the change, he also adapted to the new role quickly.
“I first got word of it after last season, after our end-of-the-season meetings,” Madden said. “They kind of told me they were going to look at that. They said I could still have a shot at quarterback, but I kind of just went with the defensive side of the ball and it really worked out for me. I think I’m doing really well where I’m at and I’m having a lot more fun than I was at quarterback, honestly.”
Belton head coach Brett Sniffin said a handful of Madden’s qualities made him an ideal candidate for the role.
“He brings toughness to us,” Sniffin said. “He brings an attitude. He brings athleticism. He fits the bill of what we wanted in that position and he was selfless in coming in there and doing that. He took what we wanted and ran with it, and we’re extremely proud of the season he’s had.”
As Madden has continued to get more games under his belt, his comfort level and production have increased. Of his four tackles for losses this season, two came in last week’s win.
“That really made me excited,” said Madden, who also competes in the triple jump and long jump during track and field season. “They were really fun plays. I read my key. He came through the hole, and I just lit the quarterback up. It was really fun. They were probably my favorite plays of the season.”
Madden will be quick to say he relishes the physicality it takes to be on the defensive side of the ball. His instinctive approach and ability to understand what an offense is trying to do have helped him find his niche there.
“My position’s really free, so I kind of just roam around and when I get the opportunity to hit somebody, I’ll take it,” he said. “You have to be really aggressive, run to the football. I mean, you can’t be scared on defense. You just have to play.”
Once he decided to make the transition, he used spring drills and the offseason to better prepare himself for the fall.
“I took it really serious,” he said. “I think I gained a lot of speed and strength from that, and it really does translate to the football field. To make those plays, those big plays, it really helps.”
Harbin said Madden’s leadership qualities and the mindset he brings adds a needed dimension to Belton’s defense.
“I think he really fell in love with the defensive part,” the coach said. “For him to buy into us and the system and all the things we’re trying to do is huge for us. Through spring, we saw that he’s pretty aggressive. And for me, it was the leadership part. He’s a leader on our team, and having that vocal leader on our side has really helped. He understands what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Madden, an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, said he’d like to continue playing at the college level but if he doesn’t receive a scholarship offer he likes, he plans to attend Texas Tech and study business or rangeland management.
Although he candidly admitted that letting go of playing quarterback wasn’t easy at first, he has made the most of the transition, both for himself and his team.
“I’ve always played quarterback, so the defensive change was something really new to me,” he said. “At first it was hard, because I was really looking forward to my senior year and playing quarterback. But honestly, I play (Tiger-Back) really well, in my opinion, and I have a lot of fun with it, so I’ve kind of let my feelings go from the past. Just it being my senior season, I wanted to make the most out of it. So I go out there and have fun. I don’t want to regret not doing anything, so I just go play me.”