PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Since he was a young boy, a fall weekend meant that Jaden Gault was likely suited up in pads and playing on the football field.
He loves everything about the game with the x’s and o’s, the physicality and brut strength needed, the opportunity to be on a team and the feel of winning. Football has provided all of that to Gault, along with the chance to possibly turn his love into a profession.
That’s why the void of football has been excruciating difficult, especially when his teammates are playing and he is not.
“It’s been pretty tough, especially during weekends where there’s football games,” said Gault. “It’s definitely different. I’m not used to it.”
Like millions of college football fans this weekend, Gault will likely watch from his television tomorrow morning when Wisconsin faces Rutgers in a crucial Big Ten matchup at High Points Solution Stadium. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) is looking to advance to the Big Ten championship game for the fourth time in five years and a loss would take control out of its hands.
The feeling of losing control is something Gault had become well acquainted with for the last 10 months of his life; a time that the former U.S. Army All-American labeled as “hell.”
At 6-7 and 300 pounds, there were few things that could get in the way of Gault during a standout prep career at Monona Grove. He was dominant at his tackle position, pushing around defensive ends and linebackers without much of a thought.
He led the Silver Eagles to a state title last fall, picked a Wisconsin scholarship over dozens of prestigious football schools (like Miami, Michigan State, Oregon and Oklahoma) and graduated from high school a semester early to enroll early.
But for all the good things that had happened to Gault, the bad things start piling up quickly.
His grandfather, Bill White, who Gault was extremely close to, died after a long battle with cancer six days after Gault won the state football title. His uncle, Joe Gavin, died nine days later at the age of 30 after suffering from a blood clot, postponing Gault’s official visit to UW in December.
Gault’s escape was football but when that was taken away from him following knee surgery Jan.29, Gault fell into a state of depression. He had trouble willing himself out of bed for weeks and had trouble accepting reality.
“I felt like a zombie,” said Gault, who said his family has a history of anxiety. “I didn’t feel like doing anything, including playing football. I just wanted to be done with the pain I was feeling.”
Gault was twice hospitalized as a precaution after having suicidal thoughts, first in early February and again during the first week of March. It was after the second episode that he realized he needed to leave the UW football team temporarily and missed all of spring practice.
“It was a tough decision,” said Gault, “but one I needed to make.”
Road to Revoery
Since that first incident, Gault can look in the mirror and see progress. He dropped a pair of classes in the spring and participated in a three-week intensive outpatient care program that involved group therapy and learned ways to cope with stress, depression or anxiety.
On his own this fall, Gault works out in the morning, sees a therapist twice a week and a psychologist once a week, working with the specialists on an average of an hour per meeting to try to put him is a better spot to handle the obstacles that evidently will come up in his life.
All of these things have helped him get through challenges better this semester than the spring.
“I’m able to push through better than I was before,” said Gault. “I’m still not where I want to be but I feel I am in a better spot.”
In order to make his whole schedule work, Gault is only taking nine credits, three short of being considered a full time student.
“School comes first right now, trying to get that taken care of, and then my mental health,” said Gault. “I’m just taking it at a day at a time. I haven’t had much trouble with school but it’s still challenging. I’m trying to get that taken care of and then worried about some other stuff more than anything right now. I’m worried about the little things. I believe little things add up to make the big picture happen.”
The big picture would be a return to the Wisconsin football team. Although Gault has been separated from the team, he doesn’t feel ostracized from the group due to the overwhelming support he’s received from teammates and coaches. He says he speaks with head coach Gary Andersen and offensive line coach T.J. Woods occasionally and offensive line graduate assistant Josh Oglesby more frequently.
“That’s one thing I’ve really gained out of all this, how supportive the staff is of my situation,” said Gault. “Coach Andersen and Coach Woods don’t really care about the football piece right now. They just care about the health part more than anything.”
Taking his redshirt this season, Gault’s original goal was to rejoin the team in January to take part in winter conditioning and go through spring workouts, preparing himself to hopefully be involved during the 2015 season. At the point, Gault hasn’t thought much about immediate future or his return other than his passion to play is starting to return.
“I miss it a lot,” Gault said of football. “That’s what I’ve figured out and learned the most from it. After losing my uncle last semester, I really didn’t want to have anything to do with football. Now it’s getting that hunger back for it again.”
Gault doesn’t know why depression hit him so hard, threatening to ruin a promising young football career. Being a big believer that everything happens for a reason, Gault thinks that his personal battles will make him an even better person and athlete.
“I believe that God puts a lot of things in our lives that are meant to happen,” said Gault. “I was kind of confused at first when everything was all happening, but now I realize how much passion I have for the game and how I obviously miss being around the guys as much as I should be.”