They were both standouts, leaders who always knew the value of team, when they were students at the University of Nevada, Reno.
You could say that it was yet another example of how the University helps transform lives and provides opportunities for young people to find their purpose.
Yet for both Austin and Madison Corbett, when you look back at their careers competing for the Nevada Wolf Pack in football and volleyball, as well as how they excelled away from Mackay Stadium and the Virginia Street Gym, it becomes quickly apparent that these were two young people who maximized their time here.
In many ways, their time at the University – which included meeting, becoming a couple and eventually getting married – was all about soaking every last drop that they possibly could out of the experience.
On Sunday, Austin Corbett will play in the biggest game of his four-year NFL career when he starts at right guard for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on his home field of SoFi Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals. Madison and the couple’s young son, Ford, will be there along with family members rooting Austin on.
A son and a daughter of the University will be facing one of those enormous moments in a couple’s life that, no matter happens, will be something they will always remember.
What follows is a look back, in their own words through interviews and news stories published and aired about them, that show that perhaps more anything else, more than their athletic and academic accomplishments, Austin and Madison Corbett are two uniquely and uncommonly talented people, given to a lot of hard work, plenty of infectious smiles, optimism about the future (as well as a strong drive to make a mark in that future), and a recurring gentle, kind and nurturing belief in each other’s capacity to achieve great things.
Austin Corbett begins his football career at Reed High School in Sparks as a running back. He partially tears his ACL during his sophomore year, then suffers a meniscus tear his junior year, ending another season. He is a first team all-region selection as a senior following his fall football season in 2012, but there are few offers for him to continue his athletic career in college.
Madison Morell, who comes from a family that like Corbett’s includes two other siblings, is a standout volleyball player at Plano Senior High in Plano Texas. As a right-side hitter, she leads all players in the North Texas Club region in blocks and aces. Madison is considered one of the key recruits in the Wolf Pack’s 2013 recruiting class that includes five other freshmen when she signs her national letter of intent on early signing day, Nov. 15, 2012.
Following the completion of his senior football season at Reed High School earlier that fall, Austin Corbett drafts an email to Wolf Pack assistant football coach Ken Wilson.
Wilson, whose association with the Wolf Pack program dated back to the late 1980s when he joined the Wolf Pack staff as a graduate assistant, is in the middle of a head coaching transition that has seen longtime coach Chris Ault announce that the 2012 season was his last. Brian Polian had been named Ault’s successor in early 2013. Corbett knows Wilson after having grown up in Sparks along with Wilson’s son Tyler.
“I was just looking for an opportunity and that’s what I told him,” Corbett said of the email he sent to Wilson. To that point, Corbett has received some interest from Division III schools. Corbett’s older brother, Garrett, is playing at San Diego State. Having watched the Wolf Pack play as he was growing up, Corbett knowsall about the program’s famed “Union” offensive line, which is known for a blue collar work ethic and an abiding belief in the unity that an offensive line must always have in order to be successful.
Though overlooked, Corbett feels he could play for the Wolf Pack.
“I said, ‘I just need a chance somewhere,’” Corbett said. “I knew (Wilson) a little from growing up in the area and growing up with his kids. It’s a scary thing to do. You’re putting yourself out there and the odds are probably pretty low. I just told him as a walk-on I’d represent the community and the local kids right.”
The 6-foot-4 Corbett, by the time his career at Nevada had ends, will weigh 305 pounds. He weighs all of 240 pounds when he sends the email to Wilson.
“I knew it would be a matter of time before I hit a growth spurt,” Corbett said.
The email works. Corbett is invited by the Wolf Pack coaching staff to join the team as a walk-on that fall.
Corbett redshirts his freshman season, then starts 49 of 50 games for the Wolf Pack over the next four seasons.
Corbett’s experience as a freshman redshirt walk-on sets the tone for his entire career at Nevada. He is a tremendously hard worker, always determined to improve, and has strong study habits – a must if you played for the “Union.”
“Being a walk-on had a huge impact on me,” he said. “You have to go about things differently than if you’re on scholarship, because they don’t know who you are. … being a freshman in college and you have to go out and earn your spot, earn your playing time.”
“We saw his athleticism and his ability to move and all of that physical stuff,” said Wolf Pack offensive line coach Ron Hudson. “But we also saw a calmness about him. That was the most impressive thing. He would never panic. He had a steady head. You thought, ‘This guy might be something.’”
Corbett also credited his parents for instilling a strong work ethic.
“My dad worked for Basalite for a long while, for about 20 years,” Corbett said. “He’s just done everything to make sure he’s kept a roof over our head. That mentality that he carries, it’s not about him. He’s probably the least selfish person I know. He doesn’t care about himself because he’s here to protect his kids and his wife and he’s going to do everything to be that man.
“With that mentality, he’s really taught me so much.”
Austin is also proud of his Native American heritage. He is a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, on his father’s side of the family, with family in Schurz, Nevada.
“I just can’t thank the tribe enough for the outpouring of support that I’ve received from them,” he said.
Madison also sets a noticeable tone as a freshman. She ranks fourth on the team in kills, and kills per set. Her 110 digs are third on the team. She appears in the fifth most sets on the team at 97, playing in 31 matches with 28 starts. She is an All-Mountain West Academic selection following her freshman year.
It is clear that Madison is on her way to becoming a pillar of the program. She writes on her Instagram at one point during the 2013 season, “Love this team and I am so glad I get to be a part of it.”
The two meet during Madison’s freshman season on the Wolf Pack volleyball team.
During his first season as a starter, Austin excels. He starts 12 of 13 games and fights through an ankle injury suffered in the Pack’s season opener and another ankle injury in the sixth game of the season to earn a spot on the 2015 Outland Award Preseason Watch List.
“The average football fan doesn’t know the sacrifice he made for this football team this year,” said Wolf Pack tight ends coach Cheston Blackshear, who also helped coach the offensive line. “There were some days he couldn’t practice. But he’d go out there every game and fight his butt off with two swollen ankles the size of our thighs. We always talk about ‘Choose Toughness’ as a mantra for this team. He chose it every day.”
Corbett does this during a season that also includes a full course load in the School of Community Health Sciences (now the School of Public Health). In addition to practices and games, he volunteers as part of a class to work with individuals with disabilities in the community, working on Mondays each week during the season with individuals with spinal cord injuries, on Wednesdays with veterans, and on Friday as part of a wheelchair rugby team.
“I never really thought much about disabilities before this class,” said Corbett, who during his time at Nevada was hoping to become an orthopedist. “I’m getting some real hands-on experience.”
Madison’s sophomore season at Nevada is a good one. She is again chosen to the Mountain West’s All-Academic team. She ranks third in kills per set on the team, and fourth in total kills.
There is also a strong sense that this is a good teammate, a person who clearly not only has a drive to succeed, but who also wishes that all of her teammates succeed as well.
An Instagram post before the Pack’s Senior Night in late November 2014 at the Virginia Street Gym speaks volumes. The sophomore Morell writes, “SENIOR NIGHT! Can’t wait to see the seniors play their hearts out in their last game!! So proud of all they have accomplished! Going to miss you guys more than you will ever know! Can’t wait to send you out with a W tonight! Love you guys and so excited to see what the future holds!”
Austin Corbett appears in Madison Morell’s Instagram for the first time, on Sept. 5, 2015. The post features a summertime photo from San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Austin wears a Giants ballcap and a Giants t-shirt. Madison has an orange sweatshirt tied around her waist. There are a couple of big smiles in the photo. Madison writes, “Happy 20th Birthday – Can’t wait to see what this year brings for you! I am so lucky to have you in my life and have your support! Hope today is the best because you deserve it!”
Madison’s junior season is a breakout season. She turns in one of the best offensive seasons in Wolf Pack history, breaking into the Pack single-season record book for kills, service aces, attacks and points. She has a personal best 31 kills in a match against nationally ranked Wyoming. She is chosen a first team All-Mountain West performer and is again an All-Mountain West academic selection.
Austin’s career also takes a big step forward in 2015. He starts all 12 games at left tackle, is a team captain and earns All-Mountain West honorable mention honors and is an All-Academic Mountain West choice.
Heading into her senior season at Nevada, Madison Morell is considered one of the team leaders for the Wolf Pack volleyball team. After being named first team All-Mountain West following her junior season, she inexplicably is not listed among the league’s preseason All-Mountain West team heading into the 2016 season.
“I saw it,” she said of not being included among the league’s top returning players. “I’m going to take it with a grain of salt. I really wanted to be on it. I feel like I earned it last year, but I just have to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
“I can do it.”
She is excited for her senior season.
“My freshman and sophomore years I wouldn’t replace them for anything,” she said. “But we’ve just found the love for volleyball again and the drive to want to be in the gym and to want to be better.”
Her senior year is full of superlatives. For the second year in a row she is a first-team All-Mountain West selection in leading the Pack to a 19-11 record, its best mark since 2002. She has the seventh-most kills and fourth-most points in a single season by a Wolf Pack player. She finishes her career seventh all-time in kills and sixth all-time in points.
Madison has the kind of senior year that athletes wish they could bottle and hold onto forever. She admits as much a few days before her final match in the Virginia Street Gym in late November. Going through her final weightlifting session of her career brings forth strong feelings. The team’s strength coach, Dylan Hall, thanks the Wolf Pack’s five-person senior class for the dedication and maturity they had shown throughout their careers at Nevada. Madison can’t hold back her tears of gratitude.
“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a hot mess,” Madison said. “It’s been hard because I know I’ll never play this level of volleyball again. That’s what makes me the saddest, knowing it’s going to be over.”
The 19 wins during her senior year are the third-most in program history. She notes with pride that the program has grown in other ways, too.
“It’s totally different,” she said of how the crowds had grown at the Virginia Street Gym. “Our freshman year you could count the people and you knew most of them because they were your friends. We still have our hardcore fans, but more students are coming out. Teachers are coming out to games. Classmates are coming. There are people in the gym that we don’t know personally, which is a big difference from our freshman year.”
She added, “We’ve all connected with our love of the game again. We just don’t want it to end. We all want a couple more years here.”
Madison’s preseason affirmation – “I can do it” – has come true for her senior season.
“When I received this honor last year, I already had it in my mind to get it again my senior year,” she said. “I am so glad I was able to achieve that and prove last season wasn’t a lucky year.”
And as was the case throughout her career at Nevada, she always makes it not about “I,” but about “us.”
“I wouldn’t be in this position without my teammates and coaches who made me the player I was,” she said.
In addition to Madison’s role on the volleyball team, she also in 2015-2016 is the co-vice president of Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a prestigious honor that involves Wolf Pack student-athletes in key policy initiatives in the Nevada athletic department.
Austin starts all 12 games for the Wolf Pack at right tackle during the season. For the first time in his career he earns second-team All Mountain West honors. He is again named a team captain.
Throughout his time at Nevada, Corbett lives at home with his parents in Sparks until he marries Madison.
The timing couldn’t have been more Nevada noteworthy. The couple graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno on May 19. Austin receives his degree in Public Health. Madison is a Community Health Science graduate. They get married the next day, May 20, 2017. Corbett had proposed to Madison at the Reno Rodeo, right in the middle of the arena to the surprised cheers of thousands who see a young man in a cowboy hat drop to one knee to ask the big question of his college sweetheart, during the summer of 2016.
The two have a lot in common, a sense of competitiveness chief among of them.
“She pretty much always had a 4.0,” Austin said. “I was always above a 3.0, but I wanted to beat her. I finally pulled my first true 4.0 the last couple of semesters, and it was because of her … And her being all-conference, she said, ‘How come you’re not all-conference yet?’ I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll do better, I guess.’”
He does. In April 2017 Austin is named the Wolf Pack’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.
“I couldn’t be happier with anybody as I am with Austin,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “He is a former walk-on, he’s earned his way in everything he’s done here, he’s a great student, he just got married. He checks every box in any example of what we want from our players.”
Corbett is chosen as a first-team All-Mountain West selection following a tremendous season where he starts all 12 games and doesn’t allow a sack in conference play.
The former Nevada walk-on has now caught the attention of the NFL. He is invited to participate in the NFL Combine.
Austin Corbett becomes just the 14th prep player from Northern Nevada drafted into the NFL when he is taken in the second round, No. 33 overall, of the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.
“Growing up, this is all I wanted to do,” Austin said. “I wanted to be an NFL player. … That little kid in me, it’s always been a dream, but at the same time you have to be a real adult and understand that at some point football is going to end. I’m at this point where I have this chance, an opportunity to make this last as long as I can. Just to be able to think about that is really incredible.”
Austin spends a season with the Cleveland Browns, where he plays several offensive line positions for a team that is also struggling to find an identity. He is traded to the Los Angeles Rams during the 2019 season, where he finds a new home at right guard. He starts 16 regular season games in 2020. His 2021 regular season is his most complete season yet as a professional. He starts all 17 regular season games for the Rams, including more than 1,300 snaps.
The Rams beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game in Los Angeles in late January, to earn the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl appearance.
A few days later, Austin takes stock of his journey from a walk-on at Nevada to being one game away from helping his team win professional football’s ultimate game. He said that without Madison, and his young son Ford, born Ford Charles Corbett on Sept. 8, 2020, the journey wouldn’t have been as meaningful, nor as successful, without their support.
Celebrating with his young family, on the field amid the confetti of SoFi Stadium, after the 49ers win was an experience that brought the entire decade-long journey that began with an email to an assistant coach in the middle of a coaching transition (who, as fate would have it, is now the Wolf Pack’s head coach) into a clear and unforgettable focus for him. It was a full circle moment, reminding him of how far he had traveled. When he began playing for the Wolf Pack, he conjured thoughts of his father's strength and devotion to his family. Now he was a father himself, with a family that he was tremendously proud of.
“Ford had such a long day in the stands, but he’s such a champ,” Austin said. “You can tell in some of these photos how tired he was by the end of the night. But he got down there and just started loving the confetti. It was such a surreal moment for the three of us. Madison’s been there along the way for me the entire time and pushing me harder than anyone has before, and understanding there’s so much more I have to offer and not letting me settle. Just because we’re here doesn’t mean there’s more that we can do. So I can’t thank her enough for how much she’s done for me and how much she has to deal with Ford being at home and I’m at work all day.
“So so much credit goes to her and I never want to undersell that by any means.”