Scharping was talented at a young age
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – By the time Max Scharping was in the fifth grade, he was a lanky kid.
After playing one season of flag football at the YMCA on Broadview Drive in Green Bay, he weighed out of the program.
His parents, Paul and Jackie, contacted the Allouez Buccaneers organization, but they didn’t sign up in time to get him on the fifth-grade team.
Fortunately, there was an opening on the sixth-grade Bucs team, so Max played up.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘Dad, these guys are a year older than I am,’” Paul recalled. “I’m like, ‘Max, go have fun, do your best and it will be fine.’ In his first game, he kicked off and never came off the field. He played every single play: offense, defense and special teams. I never heard him say a word about that again.”
Fourteen years after his first official tackle football game, Max is playing in the NFL.
A 2019 second-round draft pick, he’s now in his third season as an offensive lineman for the Houston Texans.
His journey started in his parents’ yard in Allouez.
Max was an active kid growing up, with football and baseball being his top two sports.
His parents enjoyed attending Wisconsin football games, and one Saturday, they brought their 3-year-old son to watch the Badgers.
That day, he got to watch future Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne in action.
“He got into it,” Paul said. “The couple behind us asked how old he was. We said, ‘He just turned 3 in August.’ He didn’t want to leave his seat to go to the bathroom. It was amazing. He was always tuned in to the game.”
The Scharpings also went to plenty of Green Bay Packers games.
Growing up, Max went to about 20 games at Lambeau Field.
His fandom increased as he got older.
“One of my parents’ favorite memories is I used to rewatch the Super Bowl when we played the Patriots because that was right before I was born,” Max told Packerland Pride, a publication Multi Media Channels owns and operates. “I would pretend I was returning that kickoff for a touchdown. I was running through the living room, pretending to be (Desmond) Howard. My dad probably still remembers stuff like that. On one of my birthdays, I had a DVD given to me, and it was a commemoration of the first two Super Bowls when they played the Chiefs and the Raiders. I remember watching that a couple of times when I was younger in high school. It’s cool when you can see the history of where you were from and see it emulated in these people past, present and future.”
A good tight end
Watching the Packers and Badgers on weekends laid the groundwork for Max to be a football nut.
He played his first year of football at the YMCA, where the kids would run around the field without much structure.
“He played both sides,” Jackie said. “He also punted, too, which was kind of funny.”
Max played with a star-studded group.
“He ended up being on a team with the son of Doug Pederson (the backup quarterback to former Packers quarterback Brett Favre) and (former Packers running back) Edgar Bennett’s son,” Paul said.
Max, who attended Langlade Elementary School and Lombardi Middle School, played the next three years in middle school for the Allouez Bucs.
His coach in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, John Uhl, said he saw lots of promise in the young player.
“When Max was young, he was tall and thin,” Uhl said. “He was athletic, so we played him at defensive end and tight end. He was our best receiver. He was a good athlete, especially as he got older and gained more body control. During his eighth-grade year, his leadership stood out. He worked hard and had a good attitude. The other kids fed off that.”
Max has a trading card of himself from his first year playing for the Bucs.
He was 4-foot-8 and weighed 80 pounds.
“He was always in the 99th percentile for his age and weight,” Jackie said. “He was thin and didn’t have lots of body fat.”
Max’s teams didn’t have the most success in a couple of seasons with the Bucs, but that changed as he got older.
“Our team wasn’t very good his sixth- and seventh-grade years,” Uhl said. “We won one game in sixth grade and two games in seventh grade, but he was always positive and having a good time. That helped the team stick together so that his eighth-grade year they went 13-2. They appreciated it lots more having worked through those hard times.”
One of Uhl’s go-to plays was to have Max line up at tight end and throw him a jump ball.
He sometimes had an entire foot on defensive backs.
“For his age and size, he had decent speed,” Paul said. “If they could throw him a jump ball, nobody was going to go bat it down.”
One season while playing with the Bucs, Max got a chance to play at the Packers’ practice facility, Ray Nitschke Field.
A Packers photographer took shots and Max and his teammates ended up on a Packers ticket the following season.
Switching to offensive line
During his middle school days, Green Bay Southwest head varsity football coach Bryce Paup had heard about a tall football player coming through the district.
In the eighth grade, Max started taking part in a weightlifting program run by Paup and his coaching staff.
Max was immediately pulled up to the varsity squad as a freshman – at that point, he was about 6-foot-1.
He also was able to play in junior varsity games.
His primary positions were defensive line and tight end.
“He looked like Baby Huey,” Paup, who played 11 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL, the first five with the Packers, said. “He was big, tall and not that defined, but you could tell he had big bone structure, was athletic and just needed to grow into his body. It was only a matter of time before he was going to be good.”
Going into his sophomore year, Paup wanted Max to concentrate on tight end, but that was short-lived.
“Talk about the Lord working in odd ways,” Paul said. “That January, Max came to us and this one class was driving him nuts. He was in there for a week and hated it. He said, ‘I want to switch out of this class, and I’ve got to take PE (physical education) anyway. About 10 days later, going up to dunk the ball in that gym class, he broke his leg. His growth plate wasn’t closed yet, so he tore some meniscus, and the bone below the knee started to separate. They don’t classify it as a true break of the leg, but it was not good. (Paup) didn’t want Max going over the middle and taking a hit on that leg. He came to Max and said, ‘I don’t want to put you at tight end. How about anchoring the left side of my offensive line?’”
Max was always one of the bigger kids in his class and even his school, so he said he knew playing offensive line might be a possibility down the line.
However, he was still reluctant about the switch.
“When you’re going from tight end, you always miss getting that opportunity to get the ball in your hands,” Max said. “When (Paup) said, ‘You’re going to be our guy, you’re going to be playing. We need you to move over there,’ it was an easy decision. When you’ve got someone who played in the league and was an NFL defensive MVP as your coach tell you something, you should probably listen to him. Thankfully, it worked out well for me, and I owe that to him for seeing that and progressing my football career farther than it would have gone.”
Max, who put on about 100 pounds during his high school career, became the starting left tackle for the Trojans for his final three years.
He was a three-time All-Fox River Classic Conference selection.
“His size and his physical frame and thickness of his body were going to dictate what he was going to be,” Paup, who is now the defensive line coach at his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa, said. “We got him used to playing that position because that was his future.”
Successful college career
Max signed with Northern Illinois to play his college ball.
At that point in his career, he said he was happy to know his education would be paid for and he might be able to earn his master’s degree in kinesiology.
It wasn’t until a couple of seasons into college that the NFL was a possibility.
“It was after my redshirt sophomore year I first thought about (the NFL),” Max said. “I played in lots of games at that point, and people were starting to talk about me. My lineman coach said, ‘If you are thinking about this and you want to do this, let’s put more work in and get down to it.’”
He redshirted in 2014, and as a freshman, he switched off between playing right guard and tackle.
His redshirt sophomore year, and the two years following, Max played right tackle.
One of 13 finalists for the 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy, recognizing the best football scholar-athlete in the nation, Max started all 53 games of his career.
He didn’t miss a snap as a senior.
The Texans selected him 55th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Max, who is now 6-foot-6, 327 pounds.
Paup said it’s Max’s physical length that makes him a good lineman.
“You have to have length to be on the O-line,” he said. “Not so much on the D-line, but you do want some length to keep people at bay or to reach out and grab them or to keep them from grabbing you. He can bend and run. It was a no-brainer that’s where he was going to be and excel at it.”
Max’s parents attend every game of Max’s they can.
Last season, because of COVID-19, some NFL stadiums weren’t allowing fans in the stands, but Paul and Jackie were able to catch seven Texan home games and four on the road.
“It’s over the moon for a dad,” Paul said. “It’s surreal. You always want your kids to do well and have fun. Along the way, we’ve made lots of excellent friends through the kids’ sports – it’s not even just our son, he has a sister who’s two years older – we’ve picked up friends.”
His mom agrees.
“He worked hard,” Jackie said. “He was an excellent student and put his mind to it. It’s nice to see him be successful after working so hard.”
Sports editor’s note: To read another article about Schapring returning home to Lambeau Field in August, CLICK HERE.