DETROIT – When Max Scharping was a sophomore at Green Bay Southwest High School in Wisconsin, he doubted he’d play college football, let alone become one of the best offensive linemen in the country.
But there he was at Mid-American Conference Media Day on Tuesday at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions and the MAC Championship game, fielding questions about being a highly touted NFL draft prospect.
The redshirt senior probably could have been drafted this past spring, but he elected to return to Northern Illinois to anchor the offensive line at left tackle for the Huskies, who were picked to win the MAC West by the league’s media poll released earlier in the morning.
“I got into a very good situation at NIU,” Scharping said. “Obviously, it worked out very well for me, and I can’t be happier that I chose NIU as a school.”
Scharping was a late bloomer in high school, not because he lacked height, size or skill. Currently, he’s 6-foot-6, 320 pounds and is on the Outland Trophy watch list, awarded to college football’s best interior linemen. No, he was a late-bloomer because a fractured tibia injury he suffered as a sophomore kept him from catching the attention of elite schools.
He eventually flourished at Southwest High, becoming a three-time all-conference and 2013 all-state player. He had a 2-star rating from 247Sports and earned offers from Central Michigan, Western Michigan and a handful of Football Championship Subdivision programs.
He landed with NIU because coach Rod Carey has strong recruiting roots with the coaches in the greater Green Bay area.
“We got to know him and talk to him,” said Carey, saying he wasn’t worried about Scharping’s leg injury when he recruited the lineman. “The relationship led us to being all-in on recruiting him because of who he is, and who his parents are, and what they believe in.
“We felt like it fit us, and he did, too, because he came here.”
Scharping also credited his teammates with making him better, even pointing across the room toward defensive end Sutton Smith, only NIU’s second consensus All-American.
“He’s a beast,” Scharping admitted. “It’s a lot of fun because we go back and forth in practice. Coach Carey was just saying, depending on who was winning, he’d kind of give us a talking to when we go against each other in practice every day.”
Smith will likely be an NFL draft pick, too. He set single-season records in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (29.5) last year.
He’s also the guy who lines up against Scharping each snap at practice.
“I love it because whoever loses, I talk a little smack to them, and I can never be wrong,” Carey said with a chuckle. “One guy will get on me and say I’m taking his side or his side, and I say, ‘No, I’m taking the guy’s side who won.’ They go at it pretty hard in practice. They push themselves to get better all the time.”
Carey admits “it’s a nice thing” that Scharping stayed away from the NFL to return for his senior season.
“His leadership with the team played into that decision for him,” Carey said.
Now Scharping has one season left to improve his draft stock, something he never thought would have been a reality at Southwest High.
“I was young at the time,” Scharping said. “So you’re thinking about one play at a time and one rep at a time and getting through one game at a time.
“Now I still try and keep that approach, because it is still the same game now. It’s weird to think about that I have the opportunity to go to the next level, but it’s really exciting, and I hope if I do have that opportunity that I can bring the attention to my other guys as well.”