Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> McDonald, Seahawks headed for Super Bowl

Leader sports editor

In a season that began with the most disappointing moment of his career, Jacksonville native Clinton McDonald will finish it at the pinnacle of all football pursuits when the Seattle Seahawks nose tackle lines up across from Denver Broncos center Manny Ramirez in the 2014 Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in New Jersey.

McDonald and the Seattle Seahawks made a defensive stand in the end zone on Sunday to preserve a 23-17 victory over archrival San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. The season began with McDonald being released by the Seahawks just before the first week of the season, despite starting every preseason game and having his best game in the final week of preseason.

The New England Patriots showed some interest in picking up McDonald, but after a week-one win over Carolina, Seahawks general manager John Schneider called McDonald at his parents’ home in Jacksonville and asked him to return to the team.

That was on Thursday before Seattle hosted San Francisco for the first of three games against the 49ers this season. McDonald got the call on Thursday, flew back to Seattle on Friday, signed on Saturday and was on the field that Sunday.

Since then, he has turned in his best season as a professional since being drafted by Cincinnati in 2009.

He has recorded 36 tackles, third among defensive linemen on the team, and 5.5 sacks, also third on the team.

Already small for his position, McDonald has accomplished all this while 12 pounds lighter than he was last season. He makes up for his 285-pound frame with bullish strength and better quickness. Near the end of the regular season, Seattle coach Pete Carroll talked about McDonald’s improvement since returning to the team.

“He’s more active,” Carroll told writer Clare Farnsworth. “He did lose some weight. He just seemed to be quicker and by far the best we’ve seen him. It just seemed like something happened. It’s like a light went on or the sense of urgency changed.”

McDonald becomes the second former Jacksonville Red Devil to play in the Super Bowl. Exactly 29 years and one week earlier, Dan Hampton played for and won a Super Bowl ring with the Chicago Bears, beating the New England Patriots 46-10 on Jan. 26, 1985. Hampton was also a defensive tackle and is now in the National Football League Hall of Fame.

McDonald was recruited out of Jacksonville High School as a linebacker and signed with Memphis University. He was moved to defensive end his freshman year by defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, a move McDonald, at the time 245 pounds, didn’t like. He was moved to the interior of the line his sophomore year, though he was still only 255 pounds.

Displaying the work ethic that has made him an effective NFL linemen despite being so small, McDonald built himself into a professional-caliber player. He is one of the strongest players on the Seahawks squad, and his short stature, 6-foot-2, combined with his strength, makes him a strong pass rusher from the inside, though he has become an all-package player.

McDonald’s position in the Seahawks scheme isn’t one that’s necessarily supposed to put up big numbers. He has earned a reputation as a workhorse who makes teammates better.

“Clinton is a guy who is having a terrific year,” Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said in December. “He’s really provided some inside rush for us. The ability to have a guy who can push the pocket where the quarterback can’t step up, and now have the outside guys get him, that’s the dirty work.”

McDonald has also been active in his hometown since becoming a professional. He is a Gold level contributor to the Jacksonville High School Booster Club, and last year began a football camp for local youths called the Clinton McDonald Iron Sharpens Iron Youth Football Camp. The name for which he took from a verse of Scripture in the Book of Proverbs. The Seahawks and Broncos will kick off Super Bowl XLVIII at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2.