McDonald milks time with Terps

After 2nd thoughts, center makes most of final year of eligibility

November 23, 2005|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- A year ago this week, Maryland center Ryan McDonald walked off the field at Byrd Stadium, he assumed, for the last time. The Terps had just completed their 2004 campaign, beating Wake Forest in the season finale, and as usual, McDonald had played little.

Though he had a year of eligibility remaining, McDonald, a biological science major, was scheduled to graduate soon. Though he was praised often by the coaching staff for his versatility during his career - McDonald could play both guard and center - in 2004, he'd been on the field for a total of 32 plays. The reality of his athletic career had sunk in some time ago. It was now time to get on with his life.

"I remember walking off the field thinking, `Well, that's it,' " McDonald said. "I was ready to pack it in."

Football had always been important to McDonald, but unlike some of his teammates, he had other interests. Growing up in Hagerstown, he had worked on his uncle's farm 10 consecutive summers, and with that came a love of both animals and the outdoors. He had his sights set on being a veterinarian, or if that didn't work out, maybe something in wildlife management. He began the process of applying to graduate school, and other than a little intramural basketball, his athletic career began to slowly fade away.

"I'd play a little basketball, and I'm not a basketball player," said McDonald, 6 feet 2, 275 pounds. "I just ran around and tried to grab rebounds. That was about it. That was all the physical activity I did."

Maryland offensive line coach Tom Brattan wasn't so quick to forget about McDonald, however. During spring practices, he wasn't pleased with the progress his linemen were making, and so after a brief conversation with Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, he decided to give McDonald a call. The Terps were desperate for depth. Would he be interested in returning for another season?

McDonald didn't hesitate. Of course, he'd play. And while no one - not even McDonald - counted on him winning the starting job, come fall, that's exactly what happened.

Brattan said: "I think he's kind of just a late bloomer. All of a sudden, he played better in preseason than he ever had. He's a very smart kid who makes all the calls for us. He's a great kid in every aspect."

"I really thought he'd come back and be a back-up," Friedgen said. "But he came back and won the job." When Maryland travels to Raleigh to face N.C. State on Saturday, McDonald will make his 11th consecutive start. He's been one of Maryland's most consistent linemen this year, and in the Terps' 45-33 win over Virginia on Oct. 20, he was so good, he was named Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week.

"He's a very solid kid," Friedgen said. "I'm really indebted to him for what he's done this year for our program."

"I guess it just worked out well for both of us," said McDonald, who walked on at Maryland in 2002 after transferring from Concord College in West Virginia. "Being able to start has really been a blessing. You can always remember being in high school when you got to play every single down of every game. When you have to switch to a back-up role, it really tests your character. Coming back this year and getting on the field has just been a lot of fun. That's what you always work for."

It wasn't the easiest path to take, but it was no more difficult than getting up at the crack of dawn to milk cows or shovel pig manure for two straight hours, two things McDonald did regularly working on his uncle's farm.

"You put some long hard days in, but it's rewarding work," McDonald said. "You can see fruits of your labor. I always think it's so interesting to see the crops you've planted grow. It's one big cycle. I just love it. Any kind of job where you can spend your whole day outside, I'd love."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

Maryland@N.C. State Saturday, noon, ESPN, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: N.C. State by 2 1/2

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