It was a sight that those watching it live will never forget. A prime-time national TV game between SEC powers Auburn and Ole Miss. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is fighting to get the ball over the goal line and he got pulled backward and his leg snapped – breaking his fibula and dislocating his ankle.
He had been the highest rated high school wide receiver in the country and, at the time in 2014, he was viewed as one of, if not the, best wide receivers in the college game.
It could have all ended with that snap in his leg. But, for those who know Treadwell, failure is not an option. A broken leg was a big obstacle to overcome, but it was something he was willing to battle head-on.
It wasn’t easy. As grueling as the physical rehabilitation was going to be, it was just as difficult to overcome the mental hurdles of getting back to 100 percent and regain his dominant form. It took time, but he got there.
“I was more mentally challenged than physically,” Treadwell said. “I was stronger, I was faster and I was quicker, but I couldn’t allow myself to play the way I wanted. My first contact was in a game and thinking back to the injury going back and getting hit all the time in your first game. It was definitely more mental. The game is mostly mental. You’ve got to play with your mind and tell yourself that you can do this.”
Treadwell didn’t feel he was fully back to his old self until about Week 5 of the 2015 season. Once he got past that hurdle, it was full steam ahead. He finished the 2015 season with 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His injury was a major setback, but his resolve to improve was his motivation – to the point that he wouldn’t eat breakfast in the morning until he had received some treatment and it was a process he repeated throughout the day every day.
“I just told myself if I wasn’t getting better, I wasn’t going to eat,” Treadwell said. “In the morning, I would do something productive to help my body recover. Then I would go eat breakfast and go off to class. In between classes, I would come and get treatment. I was just making sure I was trying to become the athlete I wanted to become.”
Treadwell brings something to the Minnesota Vikings receiver corps that has been missing – a physical receiver who takes the fight to defenders. When it comes to the big, mauling corners in the league, they may have met their match in the Vikings rookie.
Head coach Mike Zimmer gushed about Treadwell’s skill set, adding that, when the 2015 season was over, one of the needs the coaching staff identified was finding a wide receiver with the attributes Treadwell brings to the table.
“A lot of the routes that we throw are what Treadwell does,” Zimmer said. “After the season got over and you go through your year-end review, one of the things we talked about was that we wanted to get a big receiver with a big catching radius. We felt like with this football team, that was important for us to get some size out there.”
General manager Rick Spielman spent a lot of time with Treadwell during the draft process and said he was impressed with a lot of things on tape that he saw, but was equally impressed with what he heard when he talked with him.
“He plays with a chip on his shoulder like he has a point to prove,” Spielman said. “I think he had a point to prove coming off that injury that he can be the same type of player he was before that injury.”
Treadwell is looking forward to the chance to work with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whom he has respected for years. He will be given every opportunity to become Bridgewater’s go-to target and is ready to attack learning the Vikings playbook as hard as he worked to rehab and return to his pre-injury form.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Treadwell said. “He’s a great quarterback and I think he’s only going to get better. I always hear great things about him. I think he’ll be one of the best quarterbacks going in the league in the next couple of years. I’m just looking to help him and catch the ball for him.”
It’s been a long road to recovery for Treadwell, but he has seen the hard work he has put in pay off and he has realized his goal of becoming a player in the NFL.
He didn’t enjoy his stay in the green room – he had hoped to go much higher – but, at the end of the night, he was happy he is heading to a team with big expectations for 2016 and beyond.
“I’m just a kid coming up and chasing a dream,” Treadwell said. “You always want to go as high as possible, so I was surprised. But I think I fell to the right spot. It’s an amazing experience, honestly, but I was shocked. But I think I went to the right program and organization.”