Tuesday, October 20, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> McDonald brings JHS gift from NFL

Leader sports editor

Tampa Bay nose guard Clinton McDonald came back to his high school alma mater Friday night as an official representative of the National Football League. As part of the NFL’s Golden Football Campaign, which honors high schools that are home to at least one Super Bowl winner, McDonald presented Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham with one such ball before the Red Devils faced Pulaski Academy last Friday.

McDonald was the starting nose guard for the Seattle Seahawks in 2014 when they beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. He is the second former Red Devil to win a Super Bowl. Dan Hampton, an NFL Hall of Famer, played defensive tackle for the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears.

McDonald was unaware of the program until Thursday, when a team administrator asked him if he’d return to Arkansas on Friday to present the ball to JHS.

“I was really kind of surprised with this being our bye week, this is the week we usually just try to relax a little bit and take it easy,” said McDonald. “But when they told me about the program I said I’d do it.”

The Golden Football Program is in recognition of the upcoming Super Bowl 50, the gold anniversary of what’s become the most watched single-day sporting event worldwide. In an attempt to bridge the gap between high school and professional football, the NFL has embarked on this program.

Along with receiving the commemorative football from its most successful alumni, recognized schools will also receive a character education curriculum, and will be eligible to apply for high school football grants of up to $5,000. The NFL Foundation has also donated $1 million in support of the initiative.

McDonald was quick to deflect credit for the opportunity the JHS football program now has.

“To be able to come back and give back to the place where it all started for me, it’s a great honor and a blessing,” McDonald said. “When I look at all the blessings in my life, it’s very humbling for me to see how God can use my success to create opportunities for the place that helped me get where I’m at today.”

The character curriculum should coincide nicely with the “Character Kids” who are featured before every Red Devil home game. Conceived by head coach Barry Hickingbotham, the Character Kids are grade school students recommended by their teachers who get to lead the high school football team onto the field at each home game.

The grant money, if approved, couldn’t come at a better time for a fledgling school district. JHS athletic director Jerry Wilson couldn’t say what it might be spent on, but speculates that with a new mascot might come the need for new uniforms.

“There’s going to be a lot of needs,” said Wilson. “The main thing right now is just to express our appreciation to the NFL, and to Clinton McDonald.