Treadwell weathered adversity on path to Vikings
CRETE, Ill. -- Laquon Treadwell had already taken his seat on the team bus after the breakout game of his high school career, and a referee was scrambling to find him.Crete-Monee offensive coordinator John Konecki didn't know what to think. His s...
CRETE, Ill. - Laquon Treadwell had already taken his seat on the team bus after the breakout game of his high school career, and a referee was scrambling to find him.
Crete-Monee offensive coordinator John Konecki didn’t know what to think. His sophomore receiver had just caught 10 passes for 186 yards in a 35-28 win over Normal West in the first round of the 2010 Illinois state playoffs, and the bus suddenly was being held up.
“It was really weird,” said Konecki, now head coach at Crete-Monee. “No official ever had come to the bus before or since, and he says, ‘Where’s No. 6?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, no, what happened? Did he say something?’ A lot of things go through your head when you’re a coach.”
The official called for Treadwell to get off. He complied, not knowing what was going on.
“The ref was like, ‘You played your butt off,’” said Treadwell, who also that day had several sacks while playing defensive end. “He basically came up and handed me his lunch. It caught me off guard. He said, ‘You put on a show today, I want you to have my lunch. You worked harder than I did today.’ My teammates just started clapping.”
The meal was nothing special, a sandwich and some fruit, but Treadwell gobbled it up as if it were steak and lobster. He felt as if he really had arrived as a football player.
Indeed Treadwell had. He went on to star for two more seasons with the Warriors, leading them to the school’s only state title as a senior in 2012.
Treadwell then made an immediate impact at Mississippi. Although his career was derailed by a devastating leg injury suffered midway through the 2014 season, the receiver recovered well enough to be taken by the Vikings with the No. 23 pick in April’s draft.
Where it all started for Treadwell was in south suburban Chicago. That’s where he developed from a kid who ran around on a nearby cornfield, hoping to one day be a farmer, to one who became the nation’s top-ranked high school wide receiver.
Treadwell, 21, grew up in Ford Heights, a village 30 miles south of Chicago regarded as the poorest suburb in the United States. His mother, Tami Treadwell, sought to make ends meet while raising six kids as a single parent, but Laquon mostly had a carefree childhood.
“Everything I did, I was around animals and had to do with the outdoors,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I’m going to be a farmer when I grow up and get me some chickens and some horses and some (crops).’”
Tami Treadwell said her son used to run amok in the fields, stealing tomatoes and onions, although Laquon corrects her and says it was corn and watermelon. The corn was used as bait for fishing.
His mom remembers how competitive he was as a youngster.
“I used to play this video game when he was 6 or 7, and he would always go back and try to beat my score,” she said. “He was always trying to take the initiative as a little man. If something broke, he’d say, ‘I can fix it. I can do it.’ ”
There weren’t a lot of opportunities, though, for kids in impoverished Ford Heights, where the family lived in a home that is now boarded up and abandoned. The village didn’t even have organized athletic programs.
Tami Treadwell decided when Laquon was 9 it was best to move the family eight miles southwest to much safer University Park, which is three miles west of Crete. The area is the farthest south of the Chicago suburbs, but there also is plenty of rural space.
“Me being a single parent, I knew I couldn’t stay (in Ford Heights) forever with my kids or they would have been caught in that environment,” said Tami Treadwell, who works for the state of Illinois with children who have mental disabilities. “Initially, they hated it when we moved to University Park because it was quiet and nobody came outside.”
Treadwell, whose three brothers and two sisters now range in age from 18 to 26, was homesick for Ford Heights and would go back whenever he could and stay with his grandmother. But then her son found football, Tami Treadwell said, and “was in heaven.”
Treadwell made his debut playing for the University Park Lions in the fall of 2005, when he was 10, and they won the pee-wee Super Bowl.
Treadwell, though, barely made it to the start of the season. First, he tipped the scales at 108 pounds, three more than the limit of 105. So one of his youth coaches, Jerry Butler, wrapped him in trash bags and had him run in the late-summer heat to make the weight limit.
Then the first game arrived at Palmer Park and Treadwell wasn’t there. He had been staying with his grandmother in Ford Heights, and the ride he was supposed to get to the game never showed up.
Despite not being clear exactly where Treadwell was in Ford Heights, Lions coach Alvin Coleman went looking for the player who had been starring in practices. He eventually found him, and the two got to the game before the first quarter was over.
“The game had already started, and I’ll never forget Coach Coleman comes bursting through the gates with that little No. 35,” said George Green, a youth coach who later headed the team Treadwell was on in eighth grade. “That was his first game.”
Treadwell was said to have had quite a debut. On offense, he was a fullback who barreled through the line.
“He wanted to play tailback, but two guys were both good, so (Coleman) had a race,” remembers former teammate Jahari Butler, a good friend of Treadwell’s and Jerry Butler’s son. “A kid by the name of Londell Lee barely beat him, so that’s why (Treadwell) played fullback.”
On defense, Treadwell starred at middle linebacker. That’s what Coleman remembers most about his early days.
“Quon was tough,” Coleman said. “He was mean. He led our team in tackles that season.”
Treadwell continued to play all over the field during his youth. On defense, he also saw time on the line and in the secondary. On offense, he manned every skill position.
“I just got better and better and I started realizing I could be good,” Treadwell said.
Another Super Bowl win came for the Lions in 2007. When he got to Crete-Monee in 2009, he was installed as the starting quarterback on the freshman team.
“He could throw the ball 70, 80 yards; I’m not exaggerating,” said Jason Okrasinski, then his coach. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Yet after Treadwell showed up the next season for varsity practice, he found himself at wide receiver. Then-Warriors coach Jerry Verde said that was the best move for the team since he had a senior earmarked for quarterback and still wanted to get the ball in Treadwell’s hands.
“He was a little apprehensive about playing wideout at first,” said Verde, now the coach at Evergreen Park High School outside Chicago. “I think that he could have been a Division I quarterback, but I don’t think he would have ended up being the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation.”
Treadwell caught 54 passes for 748 yards as a sophomore, including his breakout game against Normal West. That set the stage for a magnificent junior year.
Treadwell in 2011 had 75 receptions for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns as the Warriors went undefeated during the regular season and were eyeing a state title. But it all came crashing down in a 51-36 loss to Peoria Richwoods in the second round of the playoffs.
“I was kind of the leader of the team,” Treadwell said. “After we lost, I told (teammates), ‘We’re going to be back next year and we’re going to see them again.’ ”
That’s what happened. The Warriors fell behind Peoria Richwoods by 11 points in the fourth quarter of a 2012 state second-round game, but Treadwell saved the season with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown and 1-yard TD run with two minutes left, and they won 35-32.
Three weeks later, Crete-Monee won the state crown with a 33-26 win over Cary Grove. Treadwell, who finished the season with 81 catches for 1,424 yards and 16 TDs while also starring at defensive back, played likely the best game of his high school career.
“He really took over the game himself at state,” said Lance Lenoir, then a Crete-Monee wide receiver and now at Western Illinois. “He was the reason why we won the state championship.”
Konecki said Treadwell played 10 positions in the title game. He caught six passes for 85 yards, including a 57-yard TD reception, and ran six times for 93 yards, including 69 yards for a score. He kicked an extra point, ran in a two-point conversation, and on defense had 12 tackles and an interception.
“We won the state championship for the first time in school history, undefeated record,” Treadwell said. “The community really came around us and took that journey with us. It was some good times.”
A road sign honoring the Warriors as 2012 state champs was placed outside Crete, although it now hangs on a wall at the school. Soon to go up on a wall will be a framed No. 6, the jersey retired in Treadwell’s honor when he returned to the school before the April draft in Chicago.
“Laquon is the toughest, hardest-working, most talented kid any of us at the school ever has coached,” Konecki said.
During Treadwell’s rise to prominence, his mother continued to work long hours to support her children. Tami Treadwell estimates the family lived in 15 different places in an 11-year span, one reason being they often had to move when rent was increased.
“She was our superhero,” Treadwell said. “As kids, you don’t realize the sacrifices she made, but now I see. It just tells you that hard work pays off. Once I started to realize I had what it takes to make to the next level, I told her it’s going to pay off.”
Treadwell’s father wasn’t a part of his life when he was growing up. Treadwell said he now has a speaking relationship with him but didn’t want to elaborate.
Treadwell has a 3-year-old daughter, Madison, who lives with her mother in Illinois. Madison, though, visits Treadwell often.
“He wants to take care of her, just be a good father,” said Tami Treadwell. “He didn’t have a father, so he wants to be there for her.”
Treadwell has two brothers in Laron, 22 and Darrell, 20, who once played football but not past the high school level. His youngest brother, Juawan, 18, is a rising senior cornerback at Crete-Monee who could end up at the University of Illinois.
Treadwell not only left state for college, he left the Midwest. Although the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State were hot after him, he chose Mississippi because a teammate from the year before, defensive back Anthony Standifer, had gone there, and he liked the challenge of trying to elevate a school that wasn’t a traditional power.
Everything initially worked out as Treadwell moved immediately into the starting lineup as a freshman, and as a sophomore he helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start and No. 3 national ranking. Soon, though, it all came crashing down again.
In a 35-31 loss Auburn on Nov. 1, 2014, just as Treadwell was about to get into the end zone for a late go-ahead score, he was wrestled to the ground and lost a fumble. Treadwell suffered a gruesome season-ending injury in which he broke his left tibia and dislocated his left ankle, and a rigorous rehabilitation followed.
“When you go through something like that, it’s humbling and it puts things in perspective,” Treadwell said. “It made me realize who was really in my corner, coming from a 10-year-old to all the way through high school.”
Treadwell received plenty of support from back home. Jahari Butler came to Mississippi and spent a month helping him get around.
When the school year was over, Treadwell returned to Illinois. Jerry Butler helped him get back in shape.
“I was his trainer,” he said. “We used to go ride bikes. I would tell him we would go five miles non-stop, but he wanted to go 10.”
The hard work paid off. Even though Treadwell said he never was at 100 percent throughout his junior season of 2015, he played well enough - 82 receptions, 1,153 yards, 11 touchdowns - to declare early for the draft and be selected by the Vikings.
It was a bonus that the draft was held in Chicago. Treadwell made the most of the days before the draft, including returning to Crete-Monee to address the student body.
Treadwell brought Madison with him. He looked on with emotion at the frame containing his retired No. 6.
“It’s just an honor,” Treadwell said. “I carry myself with a standard that will represent the school. I always try to hold myself to a standard that will represent who have supported me and think enough about me and just appreciate the hard work and the dedication it took for me to get (to the NFL).”