Saturday, July 17, 2010

SPORTS>>McDonald helping out alma mater

Leader sports editor

New Jacksonville football coach Rick Russell doesn’t necessarily want his players to turn out like Clinton McDonald, though that would be nice.

It would simply be good enough if Russell’s Red Devils feel the way McDonald does about the program.

McDonald, the Jacksonville graduate currently with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, gave the Russell era a shot in the arm with a pep talk to the Red Devils before Thursday’s conditioning workout.

“You guys can be the front runner of a new legacy, which is yours,” McDonald said in his remarks to the team in the Jacksonville film room.

McDonald, a defensive lineman who was a late draft pick by Cincinnati over a year ago, has been spending extended time at his alma mater recently to see what he can do to help out after Russell, his old defensive coach, moved from North Pulaski to take over at Jacksonville last week.

Russell is a 14-year veteran of the Jacksonville staff who left the school in the spring of 2009 to become North Pulaski’s head coach. In his return to Jacksonville, Russell was more than happy to accept McDonald’s help, which included McDonald voluntarily racking and organizing weights in the Red Devils’ indoor practice facility and plans for McDonald to hold a camp with fellow NFL players next year.

“One of the best linebackers I’ve ever coached,” Russell said. “One of the best student athletes I’ve ever coached and one of the best men I’ve ever called a friend.”

McDonald graduated Jacksonville in 2005 following a 2004 all-state season. He morphed from linebacker to defensive tackle at the University of Memphis, where he had 11.5 career sacks and was fourth in Conference USA with seven his senior year.

The Bengals drafted McDonald in the seventh round, 249th overall, last spring and he just missed making the active roster in training camp and spent last season on the practice squad, from where he is hoping to move up this year.

But McDonald, 6-2, 283 pounds, has always kept Jacksonville close to his heart and was glad to lend a hand, or his voice, to his old program.

In his remarks to the players Thursday, McDonald urged them to be accountable, responsible, to leave something behind for the next generation and have a sense of pride in place.

“The pride that I take in this place is like the pride I take in my house,” McDonald said, urging the Red Devils to be fierce defenders of their turf.

McDonald recalled a loss to Pine Bluff when he was a sophomore. He found himself in tears afterward, along with the upperclassmen, and knew he was heart and soul a Red Devil.

“I was crying because it meant so much to those guys,” McDonald said.

McDonald and his older brother Cleyton were teammates at Jacksonville, and Cleyton went on to play at Mississippi Valley State.

But it was Clinton who became Jacksonville’s first draft pick since Dan Hampton, a hall of famer with the Chicago Bears, was taken out of the University of Arkansas in 1979.

Jacksonville products Robert Thomas, Adrian Wilson and Chet Winters reached the NFL as free agents.

However far he goes in his career, McDonald said, he stands as evidence good things can begin in Jacksonville football.

“I had my time at Jacksonville High School,” McDonald said. “It’s all about making you guys better.”