For days and even weeks at a time, Jaden Gault could barely get out of bed. The day-to-day life ahead of him just didn’t seem worth it.
That’s the kind of grip depression and anxiety can exert on a person — regardless of age, or talent, or whether the outside world might assume he has everything going for him.
Gault is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound football star with a bright future at the University of Wisconsin. He led Monona Grove to a state title last fall, earned his high school diploma a semester early, competed in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January and then enrolled at UW as the Badgers’ most highly ranked recruit from the Class of 2014.
But during his first six weeks as a college student, a chain of difficult events, along with all of the changes and new pressures in his life, led Gault to become severely depressed — to the point that he knew he needed help.
So Gault took a leave of absence from the UW football program, missing spring practice, and is taking steps to fight the condition. He doesn’t plan to return to football until at least January.
“I was almost like a zombie,” Gault said in a telephone interview Friday. “I was getting kind of hopeless. I didn’t feel like doing anything or being there at all. I just wanted to check out.
“I wanted to just be done with life. Being in that kind of stage, you really have no other options in your head at that time.”
Gault was hospitalized as a precaution after having suicidal thoughts in early February, and again during the first week of March. At that point, he realized he needed to leave the UW football team temporarily and miss spring practice.
Gault is enrolled in classes for the fall semester but plans to sit out the football season as a redshirt. He is targeting a return to the team in January, if his condition improves.
UW declined to issue a statement on Gault’s situation, but a sports information official did say Gault has the full support of the program and added that his roster status has not changed.
“(The coaching staff) can’t wait to get Jaden back when he wants to be there,” Matt Gault, Jaden’s father, said. “That’s what they said. It’s all on Jaden’s time frame.
“They don’t want him until he wants to be there. They don’t want him to come back and have the same results. They want him to want to be there, and they’ll welcome him back at any time.”
Along with his leave from the team, Gault also dropped two of his four spring classes, began working with a psychiatrist and a psychologist on a weekly basis and participated in an intensive, three-week outpatient care program that included group therapy and practice using coping strategies.
“I’m making a lot of progress, I think. I’m doing better now,” Gault said. “The big thing right now is just getting back into a schedule. Right now I’m not in classes, and come fall it’s going to be a full schedule.
“I’ve been doing some things to personally try to get my mind right again, and I’m definitely doing a lot better than I was when I took a leave from the team.”
Gault, whose family has a history of anxiety, according to his father, was a four-star recruit and ranked 47th nationally by 247sports.com.
His grandfather, Bill White, died after a long battle with cancer six days after Gault and Monona Grove won the state football title. His 30-year-old uncle, Joe Gavin, died nine days later after suffering from a blood clot, delaying Gault’s official visit to UW in December.
Gault played in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 before moving into an apartment and beginning football workouts at UW days later. He then had surgery on his knee Jan. 29.
“It kind of all happened at the same time,” Matt Gault said. “Everything happened so fast. He never had time to recover from everything and just absorb and let everything settle.”
It didn’t take long for the Gaults to realize Jaden’s situation wasn’t all that rare for high-profile athletes transitioning to college life.
Former UW basketball player Greg Stiemsma, who has gone on to have a career in the NBA, missed the final 15 games of his sophomore season in 2006 after his depression led to poor academic performance.
“I know depression isn’t seen as it really is,” Jaden Gault said. “A lot of people go through it, and it’s hard to come forth with it. It was tough for me, but I’m glad that I did and got the help I needed.”
The Gaults met with UW coaches, academic advisers and others in the athletic department, and they agreed Jaden needed to get healthy first and then work on being a student before he rejoined the team.
Gault will take a full class load in the fall and hopes to rejoin the team for spring practice next year.
“It was rough going there for a couple months,” Matt Gault said. “He’s really worked hard. He’s getting to a point where he’s making better decisions, and he’s doing what he needs to do to get better. This fall’s going to be another challenge for him. “At this point, we’re kind of targeting January to (return to the team), and if that happens, great. If not, we’ll reassess the options then.”