The Specialist Captain America: Madison Hughes

Full Contact CEO Captain America Mini-Series

Although his accent doesn’t necessarily match the jersey, Madison Hughes has proven to be a Captain that you’d follow on and off the pitch, We catch up with the former USA Sevens leader to get an update on his life after two Olympic Games, plenty of tour stops, and what his next move might be.

Catching up with Madison

We find Madison has gotten up rather early to chat with Mags on the podcast as he dons a Free Jacks sweatshirt and wipes his eyes in his office located somewhere in Northern California. 

In case you didn’t know, Madison has a pretty distinct British Accent, but his mother hails from New England. He has always had an affinity with the US, its culture, and especially New England Sports. It’s a lot of the reason why he ended up at Dartmouth and meeting Mags.

Like most British school kids you play all the sports your school offers. He discovered early on that team sports were for him rather than individual sports.

It wasn’t until Madison was slightly older than he started specializing in rugby, playing 15s in the Fall and 7s in the winter.

Ending up at Dartmouth

The United Kingdom’s University programs require students to specialize in one subject and have that decision made prior to attending school. For Madison, that wasn’t the way he wanted to experience college. 

So not only was he getting USA rugby looks ahead of college, but his interest in taking different classes as you do in college over here steered him towards Dartmouth. 

The allure of a US college campus, a great rugby program, and the chance to experience all seasons were pretty good reasons to come over the pond.

All Americans Pathway and U20s

We wanted to know what Madison’s pathway was like early on in his rugby career. He played several years for the All-Americans as well as USA u20s. The benefit he says from playing in those programs is the ability to travel and play other teams who had other styles as well as interact with different cultures. 

“We went over to Tbilisi Georgia to play and it was around the same time as some sort of political unrest. At one point we weren’t allowed to leave the hotel. We were locked down and the guards out front had massive Kalishnakovs.”

The biggest benefit was going through the same process with a core group of guys. Something we’ve seen with our very own Free Jacks.

Balancing School and Rugby

It was no surprise that Mags went from winning the CRCs and Nationals with Dartmouth 7s to then being the USA Sevens head coach.

So after Madison had incredible success in Big Green it only seemed natural that he’d don the Red, White, and Blue in Chula Vista even while in college. 

Madison had to learn how to juggle training for sevens and his studies. His professors weren’t necessarily thrilled but he knew this was the pathway he wanted to take. 

“My grades improved while I was away from Hanover actually. It took me prioritizing what I wanted to achieve to really excel. My goals were the 2016 Olympics and graduating on time.”

Youngest Player on the Team and Captain

Madison was the youngest player on the team when Coach Mike Friday named him captain. It was a complete shock to Madison. There were plenty of players ahead of Madison that had age and experience on his side.

But it was the support from those senior players that allowed him to excel. His natural style is to lead and be vocal. He lead by example and worked hard at every point he could. 

“However, in my early years, I was more of a ballot taker rather than a decision maker.” But he grew in his role over time and as fans, we could see his success on and off the field. 

When he looks back he says that it was the 2018/19 team that was most successful due to the fact that the entire leadership group stepped and lead in their own ways. They also were not afraid to be vulnerable and incredibly open with the rest of the team. A lot of the team was able to do that in 2018 and that’s what lead to all the success in that season. 

One of Madison’s biggest regrets is that the team could peak for one game or one tournament but couldn’t consistently seal the deal. There were so many expectations for them in the Sevens World Cup and as well as for the Olympics. 

The Olympics

It’s no lie that there were high expectations going into the 2016 Rio Olympics. Rugby was finally back as a sport and the US was looking pretty good going into the tournament. They even had a Free Jacks owner on the team, Nate Ebner. 

Madison is of course a two-time Olympian which is an incredible achievement. He explains that he’ll always be incredibly grateful to have that Rio experience before he had to experience a Covid Olympics in Tokyo. 

“You’re at the opening ceremony and you’re literally walking into a huge stadium full of people and next to you are NBA Super Stars and Serena Williams.” 

In Japan, we flew into Osaka and stayed in a small town to train ahead of the Olympics where we were essentially isolated. “We competed for 2 or 3 days then left the next day.” 

In Rio Madison got to stay on after his games and got to enjoy the Olympics for what it is and see other games and enjoy a foreign city. 

Madison believes he was mentally fatigued for that 2016 tournament. He was playing both codes and not to mention that team had to qualify for the Olympics so from an emotional standpoint it was a lot. 

The games were close in their pool matches so there was always a chance but it’s always the bounce of the ball. 

As we all know the 2020 Olympics like many sporting events were postponed and pushed back a year. It was difficult for that team to get reps together, get that cohesion and create consistency. 

What Does The Future Look Like for Madison Hughes?

At the time of recording, Madison has been recovering from shoulder surgery. He knew in the run-up to the Olympics that it would be a good time to step away from the team. It allowed other people in the organization to get onto the team and it was generally a good thing for his mind healthy. 

“There was a need for fresh voices and fresh perspectives to rise up in the team.” 

Madison calls it a rugby sabbatical, not a retirement. 

He’s looking forward to a new challenge and to testing himself in a different way, after all, he is a Dartmouth graduate. Madison sees himself as a problem solver and obviously, he excels in a team environment. 

He’s also enjoying watching some of the newer guys step up into leadership roles in this current US team, including our hometown hero Gavan D’amore. 

He even says that if MLR existed when he was coming through the system, who knows what would have happened?

Madison has also been commentating on the PR Sevens and Mags admits he’s pretty darn good at it. He’s able to put himself into the shoes of the players and really break down what has happened on the pitch. Whereas our good friend Dallen Stanford brings color to the game. 

Rapid Fire

If Madison wasn’t a rugby player what would he be doing?

It’s a great question because he’s been a professional rugby player since his formative years and as he mentions he loves the operations and strategy side of the business. Solving puzzles.

Favorite Sevens Series Tour Stop?

London because it’s his hometown. Vegas for the US fans and of course Hong Kong.

What are you thinking while you’re kicking?

He uses his breathing to calm himself and really just clear his head.

If he were running the Free Jacks, what would he focus on?

For Madison, it’s all about creating a community. His brother plays touch rugby in the Boston area, his parents are Free Jacks, ticket holders. He loves how a number of MLR clubs have come in and worked together with the already established community. 

“You want people in the New England area to identify themselves with the Free Jacks and young kids wanting to grow up to be Free Jacks.”

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