Saturday, February 08, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot twins ‘pledge’ HU

Cabot seniors Heath and Keith Pledger signed Wednesday to play college football for Harding University.
Leader sportswriter

Cabot High School senior standout linemen Heath and Keith Pledger made their college destinations official on Wednesday, National Signing Day, as both twins signed their national letter of intent to play college football at Harding University in Searcy.

The Pledger brothers made it official at approximately 12:10 p.m. in the Cabot High School Media Center in front of friends, family, coaches and teammates, all of whom were in attendance to show their support for the highly-decorated Panther linemen.

As far as the decision-making process, the other school the Pledgers seriously considered was Arkansas Tech University, who also showed strong interests in the unique duo.

What led to them both choosing Harding University came down to several factors that include the Bisons’ smashmouth style of play that’s appealing to linemen and the camaraderie between the coaches and players. But the biggest factor came down to the private university’s strong Christian influence and teachings.

“The biggest reason was it being a private, Christian school,” said Heath Pledger. “That’s a big thing in our family. The college is private, and it teaches what we believe in. You can’t beat that. That’s the biggest reason. There were a bunch of reasons why we chose it, but another reason was being closer to Cabot, and they’re smashmouth just like Cabot.”

“It’s not just a team, it’s a brotherhood,” said Keith Pledger. “It’s kind of like a family. They’re religious, and their religious beliefs are kind of what we’re all about. It’s always been one of my dreams to play college football, and go as far as you can while you’re still young and you’re still able to do it.”

Both Pledgers were rare three-year starters in the Cabot Panther football program, and both excelled in their own right. Each Pledger played both offense and defense consistently, but their size, strength, physicality and blocking skills on offense is what stood out to college coaches and scouts.

Keith Pledger was the Panthers’ tight end on offense, and his brother was the team’s right guard. Harding has expressed its desire to turn them both into standout guards on the offensive line.

“They want us to be at both guards,” Heath Pledger said. “So, that’s going to be fun. It’s going to be an experience.”

During their three years in the Cabot High School football program, each Pledger twin has put together a long list of individual accolades. In their senior seasons, each earned All-State honors, and both were All-Conference selections the last two seasons.

They were both big-time contributors in helping Cabot reach the class 7A state championship game last December and they’ll play in the Arkansas High School All-Star Game later this summer.

This past season, Keith Pledger was named the 7A/6A East lineman of the year, and Heath Pledger received the prestigious Brandon Burlsworth Award, which is awarded to a student athlete of good moral character that demonstrates a desire to excel in the classroom, which is something both have done throughout their high-school years.

Each Pledger twin has maintained an overall 3.7 grade point average, which earned them both Academic All-Conference selections over the last three seasons, and both are members of the school’s National Honor Society.

SPORTS STORY >> Mack first D-I Rabbit since 1995

Leader sports editor

For the first time since 1995, a Lonoke Jackrabbit signed an NCAA national letter of intent to play Division I football. Wide receiver Blake Mack signed Wednesday with the Arkansas State Red Wolves, making official a verbal commitment he made at the beginning of the school year and from which he never wavered.

Mack, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, was offered by several schools, but ultimately chose ASU over Sun Belt Conference rival Louisiana-Monroe and Conference USA stalwart Louisiana Tech.

With the revolving door of head coaches at ASU the last several years, Mack received interest from Gus Malzahn, who then left for Auburn. After his junior year, he was recruited and offered a scholarship by Bryan Harsin, who just left to take over at Boise St. He finally signed with Blake Anderson, who just took over in December after a successful stint as offensive coordinator at North Carolina.

Through all the coaching changes, Mack stayed committed to the Wolves, primarily because the pass-heavy offensive approach never changed, despite the coaching changes.

“That offense they run is the main reason I chose ASU,” said Mack. “They like to throw the ball a lot and I think I can be a force for them.”

With Wednesday’s signing, Mack becomes the first Jackrabbit to sign with a Division I college since Charles “Spanky” Gilliam signed with the Air Force Academy in 1995.

Mack racked up more than 1,700 all-purpose yards his senior season. He had 55 catches for 847 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. He had 550 yards rushing and more than 300 yards returning punts and kickoffs. He finished his high school career with 127 receptions for 2,147 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Mack is a two-time All-Conference and All-State player. He will play his last game as a high schooler in June, when he lines up for the East team in the 2014 Arkansas High School All-Star game.

SPORTS STORY >> Faith shines brighter than limelight

Leader sports editor

Clinton McDonald retreated at birth, but that’s the last time he seemed reluctant to face a challenge.

Adversity is where he has thrived in his professional career as an NFL defensive lineman, and it culminated last Sunday with a Super Bowl championship. McDonald, a former Jacksonville Red Devil, was the starting nose tackle for the Seattle Seahawks in their 43-8 destruction of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J. But he wasn’t always as willing to face challenges head on. There was a time very early in life when retreat seemed the best option.


“Clinton’s birth was so unusual,” said Bonnie McDonald, the mother of the 287-pound Seattle Seahawk. “He would try to go back. Almost like he didn’t want to be born.”

Since then, there’s been no backing down. The most recent opportunity for folding the tent and calling in the dogs was when he was cut from the Seahawks shortly after the final preseason game in August. It had been his best game of what he thought was an outstanding preseason. He was stunned.

“To be honest with you, it was weird being cut,” said McDonald. “Honestly, it was very weird. I kind of knew something was up. When they cut Michael Watson, an All-Pro fullback, it kind of gave me a shaky feeling. I felt like nothing’s for sure. I was sitting there with my friend Red Bryant (Seattle’s defensive end) when I got the call. I drove up there, we talked about it and they decided to release me.”

McDonald’s primary concern wasn’t that he’d never play football again. He knew there were 31 other teams. Losing relationships that he’d developed over the previous three years was the most difficult aspect.

“The feeling wasn’t that I wasn’t ever going to play football again,” McDonald said. “It was that I’m connected with a group of guys that I call brothers, and really feel that way about. Losing that fellowship with good men, it hurt. It cut me deep.”

Still, the news was a major setback, and McDonald was determined to battle through it. He came home to Jacksonville and asked his old basketball coach Jerry Wilson, who is now the athletic director, if he could begin daily workouts at the high school. Wilson opened the fieldhouse and gates to the football stadium so McDonald could begin training for his next shot at an NFL roster.

But soon something changed about his approach to what had happened. Suddenly, this was no setback, and training became a joy instead of a stressful attempt to win back his job.

“God got me to step back and take a look and say, what are you going to do with your new opportunity,” McDonald said. “When he showed me that, I felt relaxed. I wasn’t worried about it anymore. I just felt like I was blessed to have a name that was in the NFL, and what I could do to glorify God because of that.

“I came home and started working out at Jan Crow Stadium. That’s where I started, so I said if I have to start over, this is where it’s going to be. This is where the true grind was provided at the very beginning, so I wanted to get out there and run those same bleachers in that 100-degree weather again, and chisel myself back to the player I used to be.”

McDonald was recruited from Jacksonville High School as a 240-pound linebacker. He was moved to the line not long after his first season began at the University of Memphis. He played his whole college career as an undersized lineman, but he was always the strongest player on the team. Remembering that, he went to work.

“I know the physicality of the NFL,” McDonald said. “Everyone says to play my position you have to be 300 pounds. But I was doing everything a 300 pounder would do in college. So why do I have to put on weight? So I got myself into what I felt like was my best shape. Even though I was already considered small, I decided to lose weight and play where I felt best.”

McDonald was still in Jacksonville when his teammates took to the field for the first game of the regular season, but he continued to work. He worked out for the New England Patriots, who seemed ready to sign him. Then on the Thursday before the Seahawks’ second game, he got a call from general manager John Schneider.

“He asked me if they needed me to play today, could I play,” McDonald said. “I told him I’ve been working since the day I was cut, and I was ready to go.”


Most of the rest of the story took place on national television each week. McDonald returned to Seattle a smaller but better player. He had his best season as a pro, recording 42 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He matched his career high of five tackles in a game in the Super Bowl and added a quarterback knockdown, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble, although the forced fumble isn’t officially recognized in the statistics.

Replays clearly show McDonald making the hit that caused Denver’s Knowshon Moreno to lose the ball that was picked up by offensive lineman Chris Clark. The fact that he didn’t get credit for it doesn’t bother McDonald.

“We have a saying from all the way back in high school about the game film,” McDonald said. “The eye in the sky don’t lie. The people it really matters to, my teammates and coaches, they know how it happened. And that’s the way it is for everybody. Stats are missed sometimes, but we know.”

Even though the game itself was one of the worst blowouts in Super Bowl history, McDonald said it wasn’t easy.

“It looked easy on TV, but it’s never easy,” McDonald said. “It’s hard to get a first down in the NFL, much less a win, and much less a Super Bowl win. I think the preparation took care of a lot of things. We prepared for Peyton Manning,” Denver’s legendary quarterback, “like crazy. This is a guy who has broken practically every record in the NFL this season. We felt like this is the time, the perfect opportunity to display what kind of defensive unit we really are. We prepared like crazy.”

Players arrived in New York for Super Bowl week the Sunday before the big game. After a couple of days enjoying the atmosphere and taking part in events planned for players, the Seahawks’ defense blocked it out.

“About Wednesday, guys took it upon themselves to shut it down as far as all the fun stuff and all the distractions,” McDonald said.

Speaking of distractions, McDonald said that Richard Sherman’s nationally televised outburst at the end of the Seahawks’ win over archrival San Francisco was never a distraction for the team, even though it remained in the Super Bowl discussion every day leading up to the game.

“The Sherman deal was never a big deal to us because we knew where Sherman’s heart was,” McDonald said. “He’s a passionate guy. Whatever he and (49ers receiver Michael) Crabtree had going before the game, Sherman was just determined he wasn’t going to bring it into his house that day.”


McDonald is the second son and third child of Larry and Bonnie McDonald. He developed a rivalry with older brother Cleyton, now an Arkansas State Police trooper, at a very early age. As a ninth-grader, Clinton watched Cleyton, then a junior, suffer a knee injury during football season that usually takes at least nine months to a year to rehabilitate. Cleyton was back working out with the football team that spring. At the time, team trainer Jason Cates said he’d never seen anyone work as hard as Cleyton did in rehab, and called the speed of his return miraculous.

That’s what Clinton was up against growing up, and he hasn’t lost sight of the fact that it’s helped him become strong-willed enough to make it despite his lack of size.

McDonald’s sister Cleyardis lives in South Carolina. Brother Caleb is in the Air Force and stationed in Kuwait. They weren’t able to make the trip to the Meadowlands, but mom, dad, Cleyton, and younger brother Courtland did make it. Someone else was there, too. Alicia Jackson was officially invited into the McDonald family on Nov. 24, Seattle’s bye week this past season, and will become a McDonald when they marry on March 30.

“I’ve known Alicia since we were about three years old at church,” McDonald said.

Jackson is a graduate of Parkview High School in Little Rock and a nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital.


While Larry was the hard-working provider, Bonnie served as the family anchor, and the Bible was the key tool for the family’s foundation. Clinton took to the teachings early, and still today always has Holy Scripture on the edge of his lips.

Bonnie even turned her oldest boys’ intense rivalry into an act of service to God.

“I gave them the scripture from the Book of Proverbs, ‘as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,’” Bonnie McDonald said. “I didn’t want them competing just to beat each other. I always wanted them to know that they could use that competition to help each other become stronger.”

McDonald now hosts an annual youth football camp in Jacksonville, and aptly calls it the Iron Sharpens Iron Youth Football Camp.

McDonald is also a part of a group of about eight Seahawks who meet regularly for Bible study. He reads the Bible and prays every morning, and had an epiphany during that time on the morning of the Super Bowl.

“I opened my Bible in my hotel room that morning,” McDonald said. “And you know we read about King David, and Joseph and Solomon, and it just amazes me that God has blessed me, and not with being in the NFL or playing in the Super Bowl. God has blessed me by writing my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. To be honest with you, the Super Bowl win feels good. But having that responsibility of being a child of God, that’s heavier to me than wearing that ring....We, as children of God, we have to go out there and fight the good fight. He gave us mercy and grace through his Son Jesus Christ who died on a cross because we have sinned. We don’t even see how unworthy we are. And for Him to give it freely, we’re being selfish if we’re not living for him and giving it all back to him. So I trust Jesus, and I try to stay grounded and lean back on the Lord.”

EDITORIAL >> Darr’s staff not needed

Oh, if only Arkansas’ other financial dilemmas were as easily solved as the matter of what to do with the staff of the lieutenant governor’s office now that it has absolutely nothing to do.

What happens in the real world that you and I live in is that you leave the payroll, involuntarily usually, and look for other work — some place where there is something for you to do. It happens every day, and since 2007, when the great recession began, all too sadly often. About 99,000 Arkansans are out of work today and looking for jobs. They got that way because their employers no longer had anything for them to do and laid them off.

But if you are a political employee—and right now a Republican political employee—the labor-market dynamics for you are different. The taxpayers keep right on paying you while you play solitaire, surf the Internet, make paper airplanes or just stay home. If the employees were Democrats and their party in control, their jobs might be just as safe, but who knows?

It should be simple. The state auditor should take you off the state payroll because your job has gone away. But the Republican-controlled legislature—or at least the party’s leader in the Senate—is going to see to it that these loyal Republican hands are kept on the payroll.

This little tempest — we’re embarrassed to even be writing about it — came about because Lt. Gov. Mark Darr was forced to resign after he was caught cheating on his state expense account and violating the law by converting campaign funds to his personal use. So Darr vacated his little office in the Capitol and went off the payroll last week, leaving his four employees with nothing to do for the $267,000 they are paid. Since the state has no use for a lieutenant governor anyway, anytime, the legislature is going to pass a law next week saying the governor does not have to call a special election to fill the position. So the four workers will have nothing to do until January 2015, when the regularly elected lieutenant governor takes office and fires them to make way for his own staff.

Ordinarily, few would be particularly exercised about four employees getting paid for not working, but Darr’s extravagance and abuse of state fiscal controls focused attention on the office. Darr’s short career was built upon accusing the Obama administration of abuse and waste. He was running for United States Representative — and keeping his staff busy organizing that effort — when a blogger began looking at his travel receipts and campaign reports and blew the whistle. It cannot escape notice that he seemed to blame his staff for not apprising him that he was breaking the law and otherwise keeping him out of trouble.

Gov. Beebe said the four jobs should be eliminated, but he wasn’t sure he had the power to do it himself. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel offered the opinion that the jobs were useless.

The state auditor, the treasurer or the state Department of Finance and Administration would have deauthorized pay warrants for the four, but state Sen. Michael Lamoureaux came to the four’s rescue. He said he was taking over Darr’s duties as lieutenant governor and they would be working for him the rest of the year.

Sorry, but if that is not illegal, it should be. Lamoureaux is the current president pro tempore of the Senate—an honorary office the Senate gives to a different one of its members every two years. Instead of sitting in his regular seat at the short fiscal session that starts Monday, Lamoureaux will sit on the dais where the lieutenant governor sits when he’s at the Capitol when the Senate is in session. Or Lamoureaux may ask other senators to preside for a spell. There’s nothing to it: “Senator Rapert, you’re recognized. . . Mr. Clerk, call the roll. . .”

But Lamoureaux will not be the lieutenant governor, even for a day. He is still Sen. Lamoureaux, representing people in Pope County. The four assistants to nobody cannot be corresponding with Lamoureaux’s constituents, or whatever he plans to have them do for him.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, which would be demanding the dismissal of the four if they were Democrats, editorialized Friday that they needed to stay on the state payroll so they could answer the phone and letters and maintain the lieutenant governor’s archives. Say again! Who will be calling and writing the lieutenant governor now, and whom will they be calling and writing, and why? The lieutenant governor’s archive? Who knew Mark Darr kept an archive? Is he already compiling his papers for posterity, like Churchill? Did he not take that folder with him when he left?

This is not, as the governor said, retribution or meanness. The employees did nothing wrong, unless they actually did misguide their boss. But their work has disappeared and the taxpayers should not foot the bill. There are enough Republican officeholders who can take them in and give them something to do—and leave the world of government with a slightly better appearance. — Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY >> Seahawk’s mom ecstatic

Bonnie McDonald, whose son won the Super Bowl, thanks The Leader for its coverage and brought Monday's New York Times with a front-page photo of her son rushing Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

Leader editor

Bonnie McDonald, the mother of Super Bowl champion Clinton McDonald, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, dropped by The Leader’s office on Wednesday to thank us for our coverage of her son since he was a junior high football player.

She had just returned from New York, where her flight home had been delayed by a winter storm. She brought back copies of Monday’s New York Times with a dramatic photograph on top of the front page of Clinton rushing Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning — a favored son of the South who was pummeled by the Seattle Seahawks with a lot of help from McDonald.

“They never eased up,” said the proud mother of her son and his team, who won easily, 43-8.

The front-page picture was taken by the great Barton Silverman, the Times’ famous photographer, who has covered almost every Super Bowl going back 45 years.

Silverman took several pictures of Clinton rushing Manning: Another photo appears on the front of Monday’s sports section and still another on an inside sports page, which shows McDonald lunging at Manning.

“This is the greatest game in the world,” his mom told us, “and to have Jacksonville honored at this level on one of the largest newspapers in the world — it’s not about us. It’s about Jacksonville.

“We were so blessed to have such a great hometown to raise our family, right here in Jacksonville, Arkansas,” she said.

She and her husband, Larry, have raised four other children here in Jacksonville.

The big game was played last Sunday in the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Her son — a former Murrell Taylor Elementary School pupil and Jacksonville High School Red Devil linebacker, but now an NFL nose tackle — helped lead Seattle’s defensive domination.

Like any mom whose son had just won the Super Bowl, Bonnie McDonald was beaming. She credited God and a tight-knit community for her son’s accomplishment.

She was especially grateful to Leader sports editor Ray Benton, who first started covering McDonald in 2001, when he was in the ninth grade at Jacksonville Junior High. That relationship continues today. (See story, page 1B.) McDonald’s mother said Benton has always written about him with professionalism and persistence.

At pre-game events, Bonnie McDonald mingled with Microsoft executives while wearing her son’s Seahawks jersey. (Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, owns the Seahawks.) Asked if she happened to be related to the team’s defensive star, they were stunned by the answer.

The McDonalds have many relatives in the New York-New Jersey area. To celebrate, the family held a fish fry in Queens, N.Y., a couple of days before the game. Clinton couldn’t attend, but he’s expected to come back to Jacksonville soon and visit with family and supporters.

There’s been no word from city officials about whether they will hold a parade or festival for McDonald, or if the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club will invite him as the guest of honor at its spring banquet.

The hometown hero is the city’s first Super Bowl winner since another famous defensive tackle, Dan Hampton, won the Super Bowl in 1986 with the Chicago Bears.

TOP STORY >> Cabot plans to seek light industry

Leader staff writer

A website under construction now in Cabot will give residents an opportunity to tell city leaders what they want from their hometown.

The website is the first step toward community development, a concept that city leaders say has never received much attention be-fore.

The city grew because of the schools. Commercial development followed, but no one ever questioned if the city is growing in the way residents want it to.

“We have never done any kind of survey to find out what they want their hometown to be,” Alderman Ed Long said. “Do they want only commercial business to support them when they come home? Do they want to remain – and I hate this term – a bedroom community? Or do they want us to try to get some light industry here?”

Long is one of six council members who will serve on the new community development committee that is chaired by Alderman Kevin Davis.

In a news release about the two-week-old committee, Davis said, “As a committee we will be focusing on short-term, mid-term and long-term opportunities for the city to develop into what the citizens desire...

Short-term goals are those opportunities that are setting in front of us that are waiting to be developed. Mid-term goals are those opportunities that could be developed within one to five years, based on costs and convenience. Long-term goals are those opportunities that will be within 10 years and beyond that will better enhance our city for the future.”

Long said two short-term goals are the development of the areas around the new baseball and water-park complex that will be built on Hwy. 321 and development on Hwy. 367 near the railroad overpass.

The development would have to be promoted. Whether that is by a billboard on the freeway or an ad in the Wall Street Journal, it needs to be promoted in some way, Long said.

“I think there is a desire to do that and a little bit of money to do it and that could be started pretty quickly,” he said.

Eventually money to promote the city will become a line on the city budget.

Mayor Bill Cypert said he thinks the council will look at several options for the 2015 budget, including building permits, franchise fees, real-estate tax and liquor tax.

He didn’t say any existing taxes would be increased or that a liquor tax would be implemented for the growing number of restaurants that now serve alcohol in Cabot.

But Cypert said the council would need to look at all available options.

Of the funding possibilities, Long said he is opposed to increasing franchise fees because those are passed along to the consumers. And he doesn’t think anyone wants to raise property tax. But the council could change how it is allocated, he added.

As for who would do the work of promoting Cabot, Long said a consulting firm would likely be hired.

The first step is the website that is being built now. It will be linked to the city’s website.

Long said, eventually, the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission might be asked to give development incentives. But, first, it will likely be asked to place inserts in water bills asking customers to log on and say how they want their city to grow.

TOP STORY >> Lawmakers still looking at coverage

Leader senior staff writer

As the fate of affordable health insurance for the working poor — without lifetime benefit limits or exclusion for pre-existing conditions — hangs in the balance, more local lawmakers weighed in on the likelihood of the state’s private-option plan being funded when the biennial fiscal session of the General Assembly convenes Monday.

Most legislators seem to favor it, but most is not sufficient. Funding must be approved by a supermajority — 75 percent of both houses — or private-option health care will fail. That means potentially 200,000 working poor Arkansans won’t be insured and there will be an $89 million hole in the state’s budget, according to Gov. Mike Beebe.


If ever there was a measure in the General Assembly that depended upon bipartisan support, this is it. Beebe is wielding the big stick for Democrats and a handful of Republican legislators — including state Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) and House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) — mustering vote support and pushing the envelope.

Carter sets the calendar in the House and, as an advocate of the private option he helped craft, is in a position to bring the issue to the floor when he thinks the needed votes are there.

It was Dismang and Carter, along with state senators David Sanders (R-Little Rock), Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) and state Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison), who pushed for the federally funded private option instead of the simple Medicaid expansion called for in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

They visited Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to ask for the wavier that the state ultimately received.


State Rep. Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) voted for the private option in 2013 because he said that’s what his constituents wanted.

He said Thursday that he believes a version of the private option will be funded when the legislature convenes next week. But whether he votes for it will depend upon the people he represents.

“I’m not necessarily advocating for it,” Gillam said. “I’m still visiting with my constituents. I don’t want to make assumptions. I want to talk to them to see if anything has changed.”

Gillam said any funding that involves both the state and federal government is complicated. But the private option is even more so because it is the first of its kind, he noted.

“With this one, you’re in uncharted territory,” he said.

But Gillam said he believes a few of last year’s “no” votes will change with the tweaking that is being discussed and that will be enough to get funding for another year.

But, he added, “The way this thing was set up, we’ll have to have this discussion every year.”

Joe Farrer, a first-term Republican from Austin, is opposed to continuing the private option — just as he was opposed to creating it during the 2013 legislative session.


“I’m pushing to de-fund the private option, and I want us to work on a plan that will save Arkansas money. But you can’t just shut it off,” Farrer said. “We’re going to work it down to where it will end at the end of 2014.

“I want people to have health care. I’m in health care. I just don’t want it to cost Arkansas billions of dollars,” he said.

“In an effort to mask the real cost of the private option, the Legislature and governor tried new math by moving the sick and frail to original Medicaid. Arkansas currently spends $6 billion a year on Medicaid. The mathematicians in the Legislature say this increase in cost is paid 100 percent by the federal government. This is true, but only for a short time.

“What they don’t tell you is that Arkansas picks up 30 percent of the $6 billion Medicaid budget, which is $1.9 billion dollars. With the private option, Arkansas is adding 25,000-30,000 more people to traditional Medicaid.

“So this new population will add another half a billion dollars to the state’s budget,” Farrer said in an article he wrote for Talk Business Arkansas. “Whether it is federal tax dollars or Arkansas tax dollars, the private option is a huge increase in spending without any way to pay for it either in the state or federal budget.”

Furthermore, Arkansas has no control over insurance premiums and will be at the mercy of the insurance carriers, he said.

“To keep costs down, insurance carriers will have to decrease reimbursement for services from providers. With very few providers accepting Medicaid and Medicare now, and with Arkansas currently having a significant physician shortage, where will people go for care? Arkansans will experience very long waits and rationed care,” he warned in the Talk Business article.

Will the General Assembly fund the private option?

Dist. 38 Rep. Patti Julian (D-North Little Rock) said, “It’s anybody’s guess. I wouldn’t want to bet on it.” Julian called the vote a toss-up because it was close last year, and it takes a supermajority.

“Unless something stunning happens, I’m going to vote to reauthorize it,” she said. “I think we crafted, with the Republicans, the best option for Arkansas. We have 100,000 who have signed up, who are going to have health-care insurance for the first time.”


Julian said she’s worried about how de-funding private option could affect UAMS as well as small and rural hospitals, such as North Metro in Jacksonville.

“We’ll lose them. We’ll throw people out of work, and we’re going to make health care that much less accessible for people in those communities,” Julian said.

She also said the Legislature might have to reinstitute the taxes cut last session to make up the $80 million-$90 million budget deficit that would result from reneging on the private-option promise it made to the working poor last session.

“Education could be hit hard,” Julian concluded.

“This is a federal law. As a state Legislature, our job is to do the best we can as the law exists.”

State Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) said, “I’m thinking it will pass. It is a sensible solution for providing health care for people who need it, instead of expanding the Medicaid roles.

“I’m just feeling optimistic.,” he said. “When you start looking at options, it’s the best available. Other states are wanting to copy what we’ve done. We’re in the forefront of expanding health care instead of Medicaid.”

State Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. On Thursday, he said he supported the private option and intended to vote for it.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

TOP STORY >> Scramble to keep private option

Leader senior staff writer

The posturing, debate, arm twisting and horse trading that will inform the General Assembly’s decision on whether to fund private- option health care for about 200,000 Arkansans gets underway in earnest Monday, when the 2014 fiscal session begins.

A year ago, an alliance of Republican and Democratic legislators, health-care professionals and Gov. Mike Beebe found an innovative way to implement the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas — made all-the-more difficult because both houses of the Assembly had to approve the issue with a 75 percent vote.

Federal approval of Arkansas’ unique private option to Medicaid expansion came after Beebe and legislators traveled to Washington to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Now, as other states such as Penn-sylvania look to Little Rock for the Arkansas solution, funding for the state’s private option alternative is in doubt. And it’s not even the state’s money that would be spent. It’s federal money.

That same alliance must get another 75 percent approval to fund — to actually accept and spend federal funds — on the health care reform bill they passed in last year’s session.

Beebe said the state budget could implode if lawmakers don’t approve the funding and thus don’t receive the expected funding from the federal government.

House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) is a banker who knows how to count votes, and he says he’ll depend on those who helped pass this bill last time.

Carter said the private option and the budget are the two biggest items by far that the General Assembly will consider. He thinks debate will begin soon after the session convenes Monday.


“I’m very optimistic that we’ll move forward and continue to fund it,” Carter said Monday. “It’s been debated, and it should pass.”

Carter, who sets the House calendar, said he thought it could be passed within a week to 10 days.

He said failure to approve the funding could cost the state $80 million to $100 million and create a shortfall that would have to be made up at the detriment of other needs, including new prison beds to ease overcrowding.

“We’re leading the country on health care,” Carter said. He also said if the state loses private-option funding there would be an $89 million decrease in revenue immediately, small business could face fines up to $38 million and hospitals and clinics may be forced to close.


Carter said, “If we don’t pass this, it will affect the budget from A to Z. Everything except K-12 education.”

He said people are already lobbying on both sides.

“It’s unjust to pull up before we get started,” Carter said. “A lot of people made decisions based on what we said we’re going to do.”

Carter, who was at ground zero during the last session, said he would rely on some of the same people to pass the funding. In the House, that includes John Burris and, in the Senate, David Sanders, Dismang and Michael Lamoureux.

Carter said there was overwhelming opposition to Obamacare, but that was an issue for representatives in Washington.

The challenge now is to “roll our sleeves up” and make Arkansas’ private option the best health care implemented in all 50 states, he said.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, (R-Searcy) is reluctant to talk about strategy for getting the votes to fund the program. Getting the facts to the legislators is the key, he said.

“It goes back to making sure members have the information to make an educated vote,” Dismang said.

The $89 million budget shortfall that has been talked about has been verified by the Legislative Audit, he said. “If it is voted down, I can’t predict the action of the other side,” Dismang said, adding, “I’m surprised to be at the point that we are.”


But Rep. Jim Nickels (D- Sherwood) said he’d be surprised to see private-option funding come to a vote before the close of a three-week filing period for office seekers at noon March 3.

That could limit challenges to incumbents based upon their private-option vote, he said.
Nickels said, “We have 100,000 covered. I can’t see the state Legislature kicking these folks to the street.”

If it’s not funded, it wrecks the budget, Nickels said. The General Assembly approved tax cuts after approving the private option because of the federal money that would be generated from it.

He said Blue Cross/Blue Shield has maybe 88 percent of the new private-option business in Arkansas. He said some doctors are concerned about the fee structure, which tends to favor general practitioners over specialists, such as OBGYNs.

First of all, Arkansas Blue Cross/Blue Shield is the only company to offer the private-option Medicaid insurance in every county. In many counties, it’s the only company that agreed to offer insurance, according to Max Greenwood, a Blue Cross spokeswoman.

She said primary care physicians and specialists might earn less under the new plan than in traditional private insurance because the company had to keep costs down to keep premiums down.

Specialists are still getting twice as much as they would through the traditional Medicaid. “There is no change in primary care reimbursement,” Greenwood said.


“We’re listening to their concerns,” she said. At same time, “we are trying to have them understand that our premium rates were based on these reimbursement schedules,” Greenwood continued. But, “traditional Medicaid allows a little over $1,200 for a normal delivery, while the new fee schedule allows $2,500.

“It’s something that people have talked to us about and we’re listening to their concerns. But it seems like a contract issue between physicians and the private insurer,” she said.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) says he believes a compromise is possible, but he’s not willing to say what it might be.

“I make daily phone calls,” he said. “But it’s still a long way off.”

Williams said he voted for the private option in 2013, but he was not one of its biggest supporters. “I asked what will we do with the people who signed up if this thing collapses,” he said. “A substantial number that have signed up have come out of state programs,” he said.


“Neck and neck” is Rep. Doug House’s view of the upcoming legislative vote on the private option.

House, the North Little Rock Republican, said, when the program passed the Legislature last year, it was a neck and neck vote.

“Even though it will be close, I think it will pass,” House said.

He said, even though legislators represent their constituents, they must also govern. “And that means sometimes make decisions that are unpleasant. That was something I learned in the military,” House said.

He added that 75 percent of the state has spoken and favors the program. “It’s a small minority that is trying to crash it,” House said.

“When we first passed it last year, we made it clear to the federal government that, if it wasn’t working, we would kill it. But it hasn’t even started or been implemented yet. That starts this year,” he explained.

That’s one of the reasons he can’t make sense of the opposition. “I appreciate that some lawmakers are welded to their dogma, and they feel the need to represent the majority view of their district, but sometimes you have to look beyond your local neighborhood,” he said.
House likened it to the church.

The church doesn’t like divorce, but when a spouse comes in beaten, battered and starved, you do what you have to do, he said.

He added, “We didn’t make this mess. We were handed it by the federal government.”

House said his number one concern is to keep the hospitals open.

Meanwhile, the lineup has changed, with private-option supporter Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) resigning for ethics violations and replaced by John Cooper, a Republican who won a special election running against the private option.

The governor warned Arkansas sheriffs last week that the private-option vote could affect them.

“My proposed budget for the coming fiscal year has additional funding to both open more state prison beds and to ensure that county jails continue to get reimbursed for holding state inmates.

“This unique, bipartisan solution has taken federal funds made available under the Affordable Care Act and helped uninsured Arkansans obtain policies from private insurance companies,” Beebe said.

“Already, 140,000 Arkan-sans have applied for this improved care, and 88,000 of our citizens have completed the process and are already fully insured. The influx of federal money also has us projecting $89 million in savings — savings that the Legislature has chosen to return to taxpayers, the best interests of us all.”

Leader staff writers Joan McCoy and Rick Kron contributed to this report.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Pizzas for Darr

After months of controversy, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr finally resigned Friday, promising to repay thousands of dollars he took improperly from his campaign and thousands more he bilked the state for travel expenses.

Darr, who owns a string of pizza parlors, will likely spend more time at his business now that he’s resigned.

He was found to have misused $31,000 in campaign donations for personal expenses, including food, clothing, jewelry and more, as well as claiming $9,800 in improper reimbursements for travel expenses he billed the state for which he was not entitled to claim.

That’s about $40,000 he took from campaign donors and taxpayers and will have to give back to donors and the state. Former Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) resigned last year for improperly taking about $50,000 from donors. He’s said to have returned the money.

In addition, Darr has yet to pay an $11,000 fine to the state Ethics Commission, although he reportedly has worked out a monthly payment plan.

He was ill-suited for public office, but he always seemed to remember our deadlines. Darr may not have read The Leader, but he’d make important announcements about his future just before we went to press. He made good copy: He was an easy target, to be sure. Credit the Democratic blogger Matt Campbell for exposing Darr’s shenanigans and hastening his departure.

Similarly, it was the Arkansas Times blog that helped force out Treasurer Martha Shoffner, who allegedly took bribes from small bond brokers in return for state business, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars in lost interest. Darr, a Republican, and Shoffner, a Democrat, prove that corruption cuts across party lines.

There’s no hurry to replace Darr until after the November election, thus saving the state treasury most of the money those corrupt officials stole from the taxpayers.

EDITORIAL >> Officials back new district

Over the past 40 years, Jacksonville has always seemed to be at odds with the state and adopted a go-it-alone attitude.

So it was nice to hear Monday night that the state has the city’s back on the separate school district issue, a much-appreciated change from not too many years ago.

Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education commissioner, told Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce members and guests at the its annual banquet he was all for the city forming its own district, and when his state board votes on the issue later this month or next that “they will bless and support the idea.”

“I truly believe it’s going to happen and for the right reasons—for the kids,” the commissioner said.

Kimbrell, who lives in Cabot, wasn’t just blowing political smoke: He was truly genuine in his belief and we appreciate his support, but it’s a shame that it took almost 40 years to get the backing of a state education commissioner.

In his speech at Monday’s dinner, Kimbrell saluted Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess as a driving force — besides the dozens and dozens of Jacksonville residents who have fought and are still fighting for an independent school district — behind the turnaround for Jacksonville.

Guess, in his state-appointed position as the PCSSD superintendent, has spent countless hours in meetings to get the wheels moving on the Jacksonville school bus. In December, both he and Kimbrell were in agreement with U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall when he gave the go-ahead to Jacksonville to proceed with forming its own school district.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also approved the plan to form an independent school district for Jacksonville.

The next hurdle then becomes the state school board, but Kimbrell, while offering no guarantees, feels confident the board will give Jacksonville a hurrah and allow its residents to vote on the district.

New chamber president Daniel Gray expects that vote to be in September, and he expects it to be a resounding “yes.”

If so, Jacksonville could have its own district by the 2015 school year, but that’s where the hurdles may get even higher and harder to clear. Even though it may have its own district, Jacksonville will remain under PCSSD control for up to two years. During that time, the state could relinquish state control of the district, giving it back to local powers, and that may also mean a new superintendent.

This is a win for the residents, for the economy, for the city’s reputation, and mostly for the children. Next season’s battles will come soon enough.

TOP STORY >> Service academies taking applications

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) will host an orientation day for students who live in the Second Congressional District and would like to attend a military service academy.

The orientation will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 in the library of Little Rock’s Central High School.

“Each year, I have the privilege of nominating a limited number of students to our country’s service academies. The upcoming orientation will be a great opportunity for interested high school students and their parents to learn more about this process and have their questions answered by academy representatives,” Griffin said in a news release Monday.

Attendees will be provided with information on the application, nomination, selection and appointment processes. Representatives will give a short orientation and answer questions about applying to West Point, the Naval Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy and the Air Force Academy.

“An academy appointment has an estimated value of more than $400,000. Each academy selects nominees on the basis of moral character, scholastic achievement, physical fitness, leadership and college admission test scores. The honor of attending a service academy comes with a commitment to serve in the military for a minimum of five years upon graduation,” the release concluded.

For more information, visit the congressman’s website:

TOP STORY >> Ice, frigid cold hits area

Leader staff writer

Through the first four days of February, the area has seen more precipitation than all of January and more school closings.

Rain, ice, freezing rain, sleet or snow fell the first three out of four days this month, with almost 1.5 inches hitting central Arkansas on Sunday and another inch falling on Tuesday. More is expected by the weekend in the form of sleet, ice and snow.

Through the first four days of February, close to 3 inches of precipitation hit locally, compared with 1.42 inches for all of January.

Also, no school days were cancelled in January.On Tuesday, Pulaski County Special School District, Cabot, Beebe, Lonoke, Searcy and Carlisle all cancelled school because of the morning ice storm. School officials did not want to see a repeat of what happened last week in Atlanta, where students spent a night in schools and on buses because an ice storm snarled all the roads.

Area wrecker services said they had some weather-related calls, but — for the most part — it was a quiet day. Jacksonville police had no accident reports related to Tuesday morning’s freezing rain and ice.

The National Weather forecast calls for high temperatures around freezing for most of the week, and the system coming in Friday and Saturday will bring in more wintry weather.

Electrical power outages numbered 464 in Lonoke County, 20 in Butlerville and 42,000 throughout the state.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville district almost assured

Leader staff writer

Tom Kimbrell, state education commissioner, couldn’t guarantee that Jacksonville would get its own school district, but he did tell a crowd of about 200 Monday night that he was fairly confident that it would happen.

Kimbrell was the guest speaker at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, where outgoing chairman Larry Biernacki passed the gavel to incoming chairman Daniel Gray.

Kimbrell, who has headed the state’s Education Department since September 2009, said he had talked to the attorney general’s office last week and was expecting a letter approving Jacksonville’s nearly 40-year effort to breakaway from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Once he receives the letter, the state board will then decide if the process will proceed by allowing the city to vote on the issue. “I think they will bless and support the idea, but I know not to make guarantees when it comes to what the state board will do.”

But Kimbrell, who lives in Cabot, added, “I truly believe it’s going to happen and for the right reasons — for the kids.”

He said, at the state level, there is a saying, “A student can’t be what they can’t see.”

Unfortunately, Kimbrell said 50 percent of the state’s students don’t get the opportunity or exposure to see what they can be, “but Jacksonville can see what it can be.”

Kimbrell offered some advice to the crowd on things Jacksonville needs to do to make sure its district, schools and students are successful:

First, he said, “You better find the right leader to bring the district through its transition period. You’ve got to have the right person.”

He told the chamber members and guests that one of the luckiest things he has done in his four-plus years as commissioner was to pick Jerry Guess to head the Pulaski County Special School District.

“You would not be this close to having your own district without his tireless effort and drive,” the commissioner said.

Kimbrell continued, saying the hardest thing he’s had to do was to make the decision to put PCSSD under state control.

He said, for the new district to be successful, it had to find ways to attract the best teachers possible. “And it’s not always about the money. Often it’s about creating a safe, energetic, creative environment.”

Thirdly, according to Kimbrell, the city will have ton find the finances needed to support it through the transition and beyond.

“This has never been done in Arkansas. It is new, so no one is sure of the costs,” he said.

Kimbrell said some out-of-the-box thinking will be needed to find the necessary funding streams.

He also said the community needs to raise student, teacher and parent expectations.

Lastly, but probably most importantly, the city will have to address facility needs, Kimbrell said. No school slated for the Jacksonville district is newer than 40 years and most are listed by the PCSSD as needing major repairs, remodeling or replacement.

Gray, the incoming board chairman, expects the school vote to come in September.

At the dinner, the chamber also presented Pinnacle Awards to state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) and banker Phillip Carlisle for their foresight, determination and effort to bring the $3.5 million shooting-sports complex to Jacksonville.

Outgoing chairman Larry Biernacki called the just-opened facility a “huge pile mover.” He added that just about every weekend through the summer was already booked with school tournaments, gun club tournaments and even some collegiate tournaments.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke ladies win an important one

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke girls built a 10-point halftime lead against Southside Batesville on Friday at the Gina Cox Center, and despite a rough third quarter for the home team, the Lady Jackrabbits pulled away in the fourth to win the 4A-2 Conference matchup 39-28.

Lonoke (16-6, 8-2) scored the first six points of the game, and maintained a six-point lead at the end of the first quarter, leading 13-7.

Southside Batesville (10-12, 4-6) scored the first bucket of the second quarter, but senior guard Savannah Holman answered with a three-pointer with 6:48 to go in the period, which gave Lonoke a 16-9 lead.

After Holman’s three, the Lady Jackrabbits closed the opening half by outscoring the Lady Southerners 8-5 to take its first double-digit lead into halftime, leading 24-14. The final points of the first half came on an Eboni Willis putback after a miss by Jarrelyn McCall with 11 seconds remaining.

Holman’s three was just one of two total threes the Lady Rabbits made in the game, but they finished with that many attempts as well. Southside left the perimeter open all game, hoping Lonoke would take the open looks, but the host team only shot from the perimeter as a last resort, and did everything it could to find more high-percentage shots inside.

“They did that because I think we hit two threes at their place and everything else was on the inside,” said Lonoke girls’ coach Nathan Morris. “Jarrelyn had 25 (points) at their place, and I knew they were going to make a conscious effort to keep her off the dribble.

“Of course, they have no size compared to ours, so they had to go front and back (on defense), and they did a pretty good job. They put a smaller guard in there and her whole job was that. You’ve got everybody in the stands yelling for them to shoot, but they knew what the game plan was.

“Just keep moving it and eventually that’ll be open, and just keep squeezing down, then we can jump off on a layup, and we had that a couple of times.”

Within the first minute of the second half, Southside’s Kaitlyn Gramling hit a three-pointer that cut the Lonoke lead to seven.

Lonoke added a bucket at the other end soon after, but two quick buckets by McKenzie King, who led Southside with 12 points, cut the Lady Rabbits’ lead to five. Southside kept its deficit to five by the end of the period, trailing 30-25.

Neither team scored in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. McCall scored the first points of the final quarter on a pair of free throws with 4:44 remaining, and the Lady Rabbits outscored the Lady Southerners 7-3 the rest of the way to set the final score.

Lonoke was outrebounded 23-19, but the host team won every other major statistical category. The Lady Rabbits made 14 of 36 shots from the floor for 39 percent, made 9 of 12 free throws for 75 percent and 2 of 2 threes.

The Lady Southerners shot 12 of 39 from the floor for 31 percent, made 3 of 8 free throws for 38 percent and went just 1 for 15 from three-point range for an abysmal 7 percent.

McCall led Lonoke with 12 points. Willis scored eight, and teammates Amanda Sexton, Kerasha Johnson and Ashlyn Allen added four points apiece.

The Lonoke girls continued conference play last night at Marianna, and will hit the road again Friday for its next 4A-2 game at Newport.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe boys continue to bounce back

Special to The Leader

The Beebe Badgers were victorious at home Friday night over the Nettleton Raiders by a score of 53-36. Both Beebe and Nettleton were 3-3 going into the 5A-East contest, so with the victory, Beebe moves to 4-3 and 6-10 overall. Nettleton drops to 3-4 and 8-8.

The Badgers led at the end of one quarter 16-2 and maintained the lead throughout the game.

“We got off to a very good start,” said Beebe coach Ryan Marshall. “Tyler Childress continues to shoot the ball extremely well. We built that 16-point lead real early, and we never really faltered from it. We got extremely sloppy late. I just don’t think we were mentally sharp late because of maybe the score. We’ve got to clean that up a lot. The first half defensively, I thought we did a good job. We struggled late defending the drive at times. Overall, a good win.”

Beebe started the game with a pass from Tanner Chapman to Zach Baker for a dunk. Baker scored the next basket as well, followed by two three-pointers by Tyler Childress. Chapman sank 3 of 4 free throws that resulted from being fouled following steals to build the lead to 13-0 before Nettleton got on the board. Childress added his third three-pointer for a 16-2 Badger advantage at the end of one.

Chapman led the charge for Beebe in the second quarter with two traditional three-point plays plus another two-point basket and 4 of 4 freethrows for 12 points in the quarter. Baker added a two-pointer for 14 Badger points.

Nettleton scored 13 in the quarter for a 30-15 lead at intermission for the home team. The second half scoring was relatively close with Beebe scoring 23 points and the Raiders 21.

The first quarter’s commanding lead had done the damage, however, and the Badgers prevailed by the 53-36 final score. Baker led the second-half scoring with 10, and Childress added his fourth three-pointer and 3 of 4 free throws for six points.

Beebe was 13 of 18 from the free-throw line, while Nettleton shot 11 free throws and made eight. The rebounding by the teams was almost even, with Nettleton having a slight 25-23 edge.

Chapman led the Badgers in scoring with 19 points, Baker had 16 points and Childress added 15.

Hunter Smith had eight points and Silas Finch seven for the visitors.

SPORTS STORY >> McDonald shines, hometown loving it

Leader sports editor

Just as he has done his entire career, going all the way back to ninth grade at Jacksonville Junior High, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald saved his best for his biggest moment. The 287-pound nose tackle matched his career high for tackles in a game with five in Sunday’s 43-8 romping of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

McDonald is the second former Red Devil to become a Super Bowl champion. Dan Hampton was a defensive tackle on the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl XX championship team when they beat the New England Patriots 46-10. That team is widely regarded as the best defense in the history of the NFL, but this year’s Seattle team has worked its way into the conversation.

Current Jacksonville High School athletic director Jerry Wilson was McDonald’s head basketball and assistant football coach in high school. He plans to retire McDonald’s and Hampton’s high-school football jersey numbers in a ceremony during the 2014 football season.

“It’s really something that our school has two defensive linemen that have won super bowls,” Wilson said. “The similarities are uncanny. They both play defensive tackle, both from Jacksonville, both teams dominated the super bowl, both teams talked about as maybe the best defense ever. You retire one of those guys’ jerseys you got to retire both of them.”

Hampton played 12 seasons for the Bears after playing college ball at Arkansas. He is now in the NFL Hall of Fame, class of 2002.

McDonald, who turned down scholarship offers from Arkansas and Arkansas State to play for Memphis, also put legendary Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning on his seat one time, made the initial hit on the first of Denver running back Knowshon Moreno’s two fumbles, and recovered Manning’s fourth-quarter fumble that allowed the Seahawks to run out the clock for the victory.

It’s a fitting end to McDonald’s best season as a pro, a season he almost didn’t get to play. McDonald was cut from the team after Seattle’s final preseason game. After the New England Patriots showed interest in signing McDonald, Seattle general manager John Schneider called him at his parents’ home in Jacksonville and asked him to return for the team’s second game, the first of three big showdowns against division rival San Francisco.

McDonald is a fifth-year veteran with four as an active player. He spent one season on the Cincinnati practice squad after the Bengals drafted him in the seventh round. He made the active roster in year two before being traded to Seattle prior to the 2011 season. In three seasons, one in Cincinnati and two in Seattle, he recorded 64 tackles with no sacks, interceptions or forced fumbles in limited playing time.

But this year, after rejoining the team, and in just 15 games, he turned in a regular season that included 35 tackles with 5.5 sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries.

Add to that his five tackles in the Super Bowl, plus one in each of the Seahawks other two playoff wins, and he finishes the 2013-14 season with 42 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Both numbers place him in the top four for nose tackles in the NFL this season.

As much for his athletic prowess, McDonald is remembered by former coaches as an outstanding person. His head football coach in high school, Johnny Watson, still thinks highly of his former linebacker.

“He was always a super young man,” said Watson. “He was dependable. You knew he was going to give you great effort all the time. He had a drive to work hard and a faith that if you work hard, good things will happen to you. He had a faith in God very early in life and didn’t mind showing it. He had a vision his senior year of getting to play college football and getting to the NFL, and he believed that if he worked hard it would happen for him.”