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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Football

McDonald to honor grandmother against Temple


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With the help of his influentials, who molded him into the man he is today , junior Adrian McDonald (16) will enter Friday night with more than football on his mind when the Cougars seek a win against conference foe Temple in a critical matchup at TDECU Stadium. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Adrian McDonald and his grandmother became close after his parents moved in with her when he was born.

Her name is Sandra Ramirez, and the family resided a street over from Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla.

Ramirez — those who know her best call her “Nina” — and McDonald insisted on servicing others and making them feel at home. Both regularly volunteered at The Salvation Army, then welcomed soldiers from the base who were stationed away from their families to pack the house and treat them with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

“She was a cool little lady,” McDonald says. “She taught me how to make French Toast.”

Unfortunately, Ramirez’s health was deteriorating due to strokes.

Ramirez suffered her first one when McDonald was in the eighth grade. She recovered after the first, but then suffered multiple ones.

“It just went downhill from there,” McDonald says.

Tragedy strikes
When McDonald was a senior in high school, Ramirez passed away. She was 68.

McDonald would give an arm for her — literally. Nina loved lighthouses, and the tattoo of one on McDonald’s right triceps symbolizes his remembrance of her.

McDonald, a junior, will say his prayers in memory of Nina before storming onto the field in a pivotal conference matchup against Temple on Friday — it will be the three-year anniversary of her death.

“She basically raised me. It was (a hard time for me), but you still got to live,” McDonald says. “You can’t just hold your head on something. You have to still go on.”

With years of giving gratitude toward others in his normal life, McDonald has willingly converted into a taker for the Third Ward Defense on the field, which took flight in last season’s conference opener.

Temple remembers McDonald
In week 2 last season, the strong safety made a leaping interception late in the fourth quarter, then maneuvered around tacklers for a 40-yard return to set up the game-clinching touchdown.

McDonald finished 2013 tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions. Since Nov 23, 2013, no one has more turnovers responsible for than McDonald (five interceptions, two fumble recoveries). Junior free safety teammate Trevon Stewart led the nation in that department last season with 10 (six fumble recoveries, four interceptions), and both are competing for that title this season.

“I told him he wasn’t going to beat it because I was going to beat it again this year,” said Stewart, who has one interception. “I just started off a little slow.
“If (McDonald) does get it, though, I’m proud of him. That’s my boy. That’s like my brother.”

Whenever McDonald intercepts, forces or recovers the ball, he often celebrates them by waving his middle and index finger and thumb on each hand. What does it symbolize? — “Jack,” he says with a laugh.

‘Bullies of the team’
McDonald is the creator of the “Jack Boyz,” the self-proclaimed name to the secondary that led the nation with 20 interceptions. The defense forced a total of 43.

McDonald, who leads the defensive backs with two interceptions, and sophomore defensive back Steven Aikens promoted the “Jack Boyz” during practice early last season.

“If you’re walking on campus, and you got your phone in your hand, and you’re a receiver, I’ll say, ‘Jack, give me your phone.’ We just make everybody mad at us,” Aikens said. “We’re the bullies of the team. We got to be.”

The team has embraced it so much that it printed red and gray T-shirts with a player’s name and number on the back along with the hand gesture.

A-Mac

In last season’s matchup, Adrian McDonald returned an interception 40 yards to set up the game-clinching score for the Cougars’ first American Athletic Conference victory. | File photo/UH Athletics

Whether it is “jacking” a football or a teammate’s backpack, the result has translated to a positive one on the field. It also helps keep the defensive mindset intact.

“That’s how you know getting the ball out is always on our mind,” Stewart said. “We work on it so much that, when we do it off the field, it becomes natural to us when we’re on the field.”

Said McDonald: “If you have a weakness, you can make up for it by doing something else — and that’s getting the ball, for us. It crosses out those negatives.”

McDonald was searching for a more positive theme off the field after struggling to cope with the passing of Nina.

‘Becoming a man’

He started going to church with his high school football coach Boone Copeland, whom McDonald said “took me under his wing and mold me into becoming a man.”

“Whenever you get an opportunity to establish a relationship with a person like that, it’s something special,” said Copeland, who attended Nina’s funeral with McDonald. “There’s no question he falls into that type of person, and it’s great to see the impact I had in his life.”

McDonald starred at quarterback for Copeland at Eisenhower High School in Lawton as a dual-threat, tallying nearly 2,000 rushing yards in two seasons en route to a district Co-Offensive Player of the Year award.

A versatile player, though he never played defense was going to be “hit or miss,” said defensive backs coach Zac Spavital. But McDonald’s intellect of reading his opponents was a valuable asset he could bring to the Cougars.

“When you bring a player like (McDonald) on the team, you’ve got a different type of defensive back who understands the game. You get something special,” Spavital said. “When you can function with a guy with that kind of offensive skillset, it’s a good deal.”

To his core, McDonald doesn’t takes anything for granted — Nina’s death was a turning point for him. She was his paradigm.

“That’s who I do it for, man — my grandma. She was such a big fan. ”

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