One of my new features here at Her Loyal Sons will be my interviews featuring former Notre Dame athletes. Up to this point I have mostly interviewed football players, but I have plans to expand beyond football. Here is my most recent interview with former Notre Dame linebacker, Devon McDonald.
Devon Linton McDonald was born on November 8, 1969 in Kingston, Jamaica. When he was eleven years old, his family moved to Paterson, NJ where both he and his twin brother Ricardo got involved playing football. Both boys displayed considerable talents, and there was no question football was in their futures. However, Devon and Ricardo ended up taking different football paths after graduating high school; Devon decided to play at the University of Notre Dame while Ricardo opted to attend the University of Pittsburgh (Ricardo was the second ranked linebacker coming out of college in 1992). Both had many successes in college and went on to play in the NFL.
Devon earned his degree in American Studies from Notre Dame. He was the team captain as a senior, an Honorable Mention All-American in 1992, a member of the 1988 national title team and was named co-MVP in the 1993 Cotton Bowl game. While in the NFL he played linebacker for four seasons; three of them for the Indianapolis Colts and one for the Arizona Cardinals.
McDonald currently lives in Indianapolis with his wife Shereasher, and his two daughters Jazzmine and Rachel. He is an ordained minister who is active with Sports World Ministries, an organization that speaks to students about life choices.
Q: Being from Paterson, New Jersey, how did you become interested in playing football at Notre Dame?
A: “When I was eleven we moved to New Jersey and I saw the game of American football for the first time. There was something about all of the hitting that really drew my brother and I into the game. Ricardo and I both started out playing high school football at Eastside High School (the school featured in the 1989 movie Lean On Me), but during our sophomore year our football coach told us that if we really wanted to play Division I football that we should think about transferring to a different high school. My brother Ricardo stayed at Eastside High, and I transferred to the rival high school, Kennedy High School. During my Junior year at Kennedy High School we went 0-8-1. During my senior year at Kennedy High School we went 10-0-1 and were State Champions. So I think I made a good choice.”
“You’re going to have haters in your life, and you’re going to have people who think you can do no wrong, but here’s the difference…what are you saying?”
“So then the colleges came knocking just about every college out there. My mother’s prayer was that first and foremost we got a good education, and then secondly that we’d get to play football.”
“I took four official visits. My first visit was to Iowa. I got there and it was a big drunken party weekend and I thought, this is it, this is my school. My High School coach Frank Bonadies said let’s look at a few more schools. Next we went to Illinois, and then after Illinois we went to Notre Dame. When I got on campus in December it was 65F. I had heard that the west was warmer, and this was the mid west, so this was great! This is how God works.”
“As soon as I got on campus I saw the golden dome, I said to myself, ‘this is it. This is where I want to come.’ I enjoyed the weekend, but it was love at first sight. Rod West was my host on campus that weekend. And then after ND, my final visit was to the University of Miami (FL).”
“Jimmy Johnson was the coach at Miami and they had very heavily recruited me. During my recruiting trip to Miami they took my Mom out, wined and dined her, showed her a good time and she said this is where you are going to school. She didn’t cook for me for a week when I told her that I wanted to go to Notre Dame. The recruiter from Miami told me, ‘Next year we’re gonna kick your (backside).’ And in my mind I’m thinking, wow. So for Notre Dame to beat Miami 31-30 at home the next season, that was big.”
“My twin brother, he chose the University of Pitt, and we beat them every year. Life was good.”
Q: What was your biggest challenge at Notre Dame?
A: “Besides the weather? I didn’t have educated parents so they could not help me with many nuances of college life. They didn’t go to college so I didn’t have anybody to reference – ‘Look out for this.’ They did the best that they could but they couldn’t provide me great direction. My pops loved the sport, but never really got engaged. I called home one day and said ‘I’m hurt’ and his response was, ‘Quit.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to quit. I want your advice.’ There was a great deal of pressure put on us both academically and athletically. You had to do well in class, and you had to win.”
“As they say in the NFL … you don’t get paid to play, you get paid to win.”
Q: What is your favorite Notre Dame football memory?
A: “The first ND game I saw from beginning to end was actually the first game of my freshman year — it was at home versus Michigan under the lights. Prior to that, I had watched five minutes of a Notre Dame game during my senior year in high school just so that I could tell the coaches that recruited me from Notre Dame that I watched ND football games.”
“My biggest game at Notre Dame was a Michigan game, I think it was in 1991, when I had 18 tackles against the Wolverines. I hated Michigan. I hated those helmets. Those are some ugly helmets.”
“My last game at ND was pretty great as well. I was the defensive MVP at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1993 vs. Texas A&M. So I would say those are three of my favorites.”
Q: How do you remember your NFL Draft Day?
A: “I watched the NFL draft at home, expecting that I’d be picked in the second or third round. The Giants had been calling me and asking me questions and that is where I thought I’d end up. When the Giants came up to make their selection, they picked a linebacker from Texas A&M who I had outplayed during the Cotton Bowl game. That made absolutely no sense to me. I had been the MVP and he got drafted before I did? He was a bit smaller than I was and maybe that’s what they wanted. So then the Colts started calling me and I was thinking to myself, ‘The Colts?’ My brother (who entered the NFL the year before me) had told me, the team who’s going to pick you won’t show any interest until the very last second because they don’t want to show their hand.”
“I remember going to see my brother, driving through Indianapolis on my way to Cincinnati, and there was something about Indianapolis that had piqued my interest even then. I just couldn’t put my finger on what, but that’s where I ended up so it worked out.”
“The Colts wound up drafting me as the 107th pick of the fourth round.”
Q: How do you remember your NFL experience? Highs and Lows? What was the highlight of your NFL career?
A: “To be completely honest, the money was definitely one of the highs of playing in the NFL. Money gives you the ability to afford a lot of freedoms that you couldn’t otherwise have. The lows include what comes along with the money…the gold diggers. Not just females, men just as much as women. People come out of the woodwork with business propositions for you. More players get taken than you’d ever know because they will never tell you that they got taken. Some of the guys that I played with on the Colts, they lost millions of dollars being taken by people that they thought were trustworthy. It’s a business; it is not just a game like college is. You have to learn very quickly who you can trust and who you can’t. You have to make sure to surround yourself with good people.”
“I played in the NFL for four years. Three years with Indianapolis and one year with Arizona and then got cut by the Cardinals. I tried to get picked up by another team but it just didn’t work out. I got picked up by an Arena Football team down in Tampa Bay and played for there for two years. It was exciting to still be in the game, but then my next opportunity came and I decided it was time to move on.”
Q: Where did life take you after the NFL?
A: “This life is hard…this life is your choice…you can’t blame anyone else. The more you take responsibilities the better you will do in life.”
“When I was released by the Colts and got picked up by the Cardinals I was at a point in my life where I made a spiritual conversion. I had a spiritual moment in my life out in Arizona that completely changed me and I began to follow Christ. I decided that there has to be more to my life than football. I took a personal training job and looked into buying the club or being a part owner but at the same time I was still trying to get back into the NFL. I went to a NFL combine and I ran the 40 in 4.58 and that was the fastest time I’d ever run. What I didn’t realize was that my pushing myself so hard was weakening my hamstrings. I went to another combine and ran the worst time I’d ever run in my life. I had never felt like I did that moment, as if my hamstring was about to pop at any moment. In 16 years of playing ball I’d never felt that way. I was just devastated.”
“There’s got to be more to life than this.”
“My brother Ricardo knew this player Steve Grant (West Virginia alum) that I played with at the Colts and that he played against when he was at Pitt. He had just retired from the NFL himself and they had reconnected at a Pro Athletes Organization conference. Grant told my brother for me to give him a call because he had a job opportunity that he wanted to run by me. As soon as the President of Sports World and I met, I just knew we were a good fit. He was also interviewing two other Colts players for this organization he was involved with, Sports World Ministries, but he knew right away I was the guy.”
“During the two years that I played Arena Ball in Tampa Bay, I was a Deacon during the year, and then I played football during the Arena season. When the Arena league moved their season from March to January I had to make a decision. Did I want to continue playing football, or was my calling to speak at schools through Sports World Ministries something I believed in more. While I had this need for the limelight, and wanted to prove to the world that I was still a good player, I took a look around at all of the young people that I had a chance to positively impact. That was something I wanted to be a part of, so I gave up football.”
“Our mission at Sports World Ministries is, “to send professional athletes to share personal life experiences with students, helping them to recognize the consequences of their choices while challenging them with the message of hope.” As an ordained minister, the best part of my job is knowing we are making an impact; that we’re encouraging positive choices”
Q: What advice would you give to current student athletes?
A: “Get their priorities in order and know their purpose. When you know your purpose it’s easy to set your priorities straight. It helps you know who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. It is also important to surround yourself with good people. As you go through your journey, you will need to weed out the people who you don’t need to be around. You’re going to lose some people along the way but that’s okay because they are not going where you are going. Be comfortable in your own skin. That’s 90% of the battle of life. I’m fine being me. That’s when you can make more money than you’ll ever hope for. What is the most natural act? Being you. Things become work when you are acting or performing, but be yourself and what comes out will be from the heart.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: “My freshman year we were down at the Fiesta Bowl playing for the national title, and as we were wrapping up our last practice coach Holtz said, ‘We’re going to practice how to celebrate after we win the national title.’ We all look around at each other, he can’t possibly be serious. Yep, he was serious. We practiced celebrating after the win. Talk about attention to detail. And then, to see it all come true and we all knew exactly what to do after we won. Classic coach Holtz.”
I’d like to give Devon McDonald a big thank you for stopping by the blog. If you are interested in supporting Sports World Ministries or bringing a Sports World Ministries representative to your local school, please visit the organization’s website at www.sportsworld.org.
A big thank you goes out to Tyler Moorehead for his editing help & perspective on this story. Tyler is a Senior English major at Notre Dame & you can catch Tyler on Twitter at — @Tmoorehead627