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Football: Northwest grad goes bowling with UNT

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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Northwest to North Texas

NORTHWEST TO NORTH TEXAS – North Texas linebacker Colton McDonald (41) looks to make a tackle in the Conference USA championship game against Florida Atlandtic University. Photo courtesy Colin Mitchell/North Texas Daily

Colton McDonald had colleges calling him left and right.

It was his senior year at Northwest, and McDonald had just capped off a 2012 campaign that included a first-team all-district selection and the Texans making a playoff appearance. As McDonald remembers it, several universities were courting him, including Power Five schools like TCU, Baylor and Kansas.

With a slew of schools literally knocking at his door, McDonald began preparing himself to wade through offers.

Except they never came.

“I figured I was going to go play at a big school and I didn’t get anything from them,” McDonald said. “Everybody pulled their chips off the table.”

McDonald said at one point, the Mean Green even expressed interest during his recruitment process, although it was under the previous coaching staff led by former head coach Dan McCarney.

With Division I schools spurning him, McDonald opted to continue his football career and education at West Texas A&M. Despite only playing one season with the Buffalos, McDonald had a productive 2014 campaign, tallying 36 tackles, a fumble recovery and blocked a kick.

“I really just locked in out there,” McDonald said. “That’s what I had and what I committed to. I focused on playing ball out there because I didn’t know I would end up graduating early and have another year to go play at another school.”

McDonald graduated from West Texas A&M in December of 2016, and now more than four years since being rebuffed by FBS schools, has made his way to North Texas. After transferring to UNT immediately after graduating from West Texas A&M, McDonald began pursuing his MBA – all while helping the Mean Green to a 9-4 record and berth in the New Orleans Bowl against Troy.

There was just one catch when McDonald arrived in Denton.

Rather than play safety as he had done for the past seven years, McDonald was asked to take on a completely new role in the defense.

“I’m a converted linebacker, so this was all new to me,” McDonald said. “I didn’t know anything about it.”

McDonald said he actually didn’t know the coaching staff at North Texas wanted him to switch positions until about a week before he got on campus.

This meant McDonald’s first order of business was simply learning how to play the linebacker position. He said one of his biggest challenges was reading how plays develop and learning where he should be on the field at certain times. Since this was totally different than playing safety, McDonald leaned heavily on his teammates and coaches at UNT to guide him.

But McDonald was a quick learner.

“He’s the type of guy, you tell him what to do, give him a responsibility on the field, and he’s going to get it done for you,” said Colton’s father, Mike McDonald. “You can go to bed that night thinking ‘my gameplan is in, my hay is in the barn [and] No. 41 is going to get it done.'”

Now 13 games into the season, Colton has given North Texas head coach Seth Littrell and defensive coordinator Troy Reffett plenty of hay to stock the barn with.

Going into Saturday’s bowl game, Colton is tied for ninth on the team in tackles with 38, making a career-high 10 of them on the road against Iowa.

“It was a pretty natural transition for him,” said former West Texas A&M defensive coordinator Thomas Rocco. “His best attribute is his physicality. We probably had him out of position, to be honest. He’s just a dang good football player.”

Before he even got to UNT, however, Colton had to overcome several injuries that hampered him at West Texas A&M.

According to Mike, Colton broke his forearm as a freshman just days before the Buffalos were scheduled to set their depth chart. Colton also had surgery on his shoulder, which sidelined him. The injuries never deterred Colton, though.

And his newfound success at linebacker certainly hasn’t shocked his old high school coach.

“I think he’s done unbelievable, but that’s not surprising,” said former Northwest head coach Bill Patterson. “I knew he would raise [himself] to the level of competition. You hear people say he’s got ‘it.’ Well, he’s got ‘it’.”

As his collegiate career draws to a close, Colton will have a chance Saturday against Troy to cross one final item off his bucket list – win a bowl game.

And prove to every school that passed on him four years ago they made a mistake.

“[Winning a bowl] would be a great stamp on the career,” Colton said. “If you would’ve asked me a year ago if I would be playing in a bowl game I would’ve told you, ‘heck no, there’s no way.’ My dad and I were actually talking the other day about how much changes in a year. It’s pretty neat as an individual seeing myself in a bowl game.”

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