Before Ole Miss could get started with practice on Aug. 13, the Rebels’ guest coach for the day, Madison Manning, made two important decisions: practice would be indoors and without pads.
“The team immediately took a liking to Coach Manning,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said.
Each year, Freeze makes a trip to Batson’s Children Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, to visit with the patients. Typically, the Ole Miss fans gather in the reception area to meet with the Rebels’ head coach. During his most recent trip in July, the first person Freeze met was life-long Rebel fan Madison Manning.
“He was being discharged,” Freeze said. “I make up my mind when I go into those environments that if I get a chance to celebrate with one of those kids, I’m going to do that. I want to high-five and celebrate and invite them to a game. I found out that they’re discharging him because there is really nothing more they can do. That was a moment I won’t forget.”
Madison, 19, a native of Ellisville, Mississippi is battling cystic fibrosis. His brother died of the same illness in 2008 at the age of 21. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease of the lungs and pancreas that worsens with age. When he met Freeze, Madison was in his fourth hospital stint of the year. There’s no cure.
“It’s a progressive disease,” his mother Donna Manning said. “He gets frequent lung infections that require hospital stays. It began with 10-day stays, then we progressed to two weeks, and now we’re up to three weeks.”
It’s apparent that meeting Madison had a profound impact on Freeze. After he left the hospital, Ole Miss’ head coach got the ball rolling to get Madison to Oxford for a practice.
“I thought, ‘what can we do’?” Freeze said. “His mom shared with one of ladies that work at Batson that he would love come spend a day with the Ole Miss Rebels.”
Spend the day is exactly what he did. After arriving in Oxford, he met Freeze in the head coach’s office. He then was brought in front of the team as a coach for the day and decided on the practice stipulations. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly invited Madison to join him at the quarterback meeting before practice as well as gifted him with some items out of his own locker.
“Coach Freeze made it really special, but so did Chad Kelly,” Donna Manning said. “He took him to the QB meeting and hung out with him.”
At practice, the videoboards in the Manning Center were lit up to read “Welcome Coach Madison Manning.” Madison tried his hand at some play calling when Freeze would ask him if he wanted to see a run or a pass. When the practice came to a close, Ole Miss players put him on their shoulders and carried him off the field.
“It was awesome, the whole experience,” Donna Manning said. “Meeting Freeze and the players, he loved every minute of it.”
Coach Manning joined the players at the post-practice meal and left Oxford with a helping of Ole Miss gear. His favorite player happens to be Rebel he shares a last name with, so Ole Miss presented him with a No. 10 jersey.
“We had a great day,” Freeze said. “Life is difficult. When we have a chance to impact others and make a day better for them, I sure hope we seize those times.”
While he enjoyed his day with the football program, the football players and staff felt lucky to meet a person with strength like Madison.
“He has cystic fibrosis, but you’ll never here him complain or ask to do things because of it,” Donna Manning said. “That’s his personality. He just does what he has to do.”
Madison will continue school at Jones County Community College in the fall. He will continue to follow the Rebels, but now he has a personal connection to the team.
Article courtesy Ole Miss Sports