McDonald goes from high school QB to defensive playmaker

Sophomore safety Adrian McDonald has become one of the best tacklers, which helps keep him on the field even during special teams, head coach Tony Levine said.

No matter where he is on the field, sophomore safety Adrian McDonald — or “A-Mac,” as his teammates and coaches call him — has a knack for handling the ball.

Up 15-13 at Temple on Sept. 7, UH’s defense dialed up a play to prevent a possible game-winning drive.

McDonald answered the call.

With 1:37 remaining in the game, UH was in Cover-2, and McDonald was playing the  middle of the field; Temple quarterback Connor Reilly attempted to hit his receiver on a deep post but was undercut by McDonald as he intercepted the ball at its highest point.

“Some players have got it, and there are some that don’t,” said defensive backs coach Zac Spavital. “He’s like a magnet. Usually, as a defensive back, you’ll touch (the ball) no more than one or two times a game, if you’re lucky. He’s a guy that is always trying to get around it at practice, and that’s why he’s good at what he does.”

Normally, when a defender intercepts a ball when his team is ahead with less than two minutes remaining, he’ll purposely fall to the ground and won’t risk fumbling it back to the other team.

McDonald chose to return the interception.


McDonald followed his blocks and made a series of jukes and cutbacks to evade tacklers en route to a 40-yard return that ended at the Temple 12-yard line.

“I just like being in the open field and making people miss,” McDonald said. “I was just trying to make a play, but at the end of the run, I just thought I needed to ‘get down, be safe, let my offense take a knee and let’s just get out of Philly.’”

McDonald has experience running with the football.

Dual-threat quarterback

McDonald attended Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Okla. There, he orchestrated the option-offense as a dual-threat quarterback with his agility and ability to run well in the open field. In his junior and senior seasons combined, he racked up more than 2,300 yards rushing and tallied a total of 28 touchdowns.

McDonald didn’t get a lot of attention from colleges to play quarterback because he never played in a traditional offensive system. His 5-foot-10 frame also wasn’t appealing to them, he said.

College decisions

The United States Naval Academy was the only school that offered him a scholarship to play quarterback.. McDonald, whose father has served in the military, said he thought about playing for Navy, but ultimately declined because he wasn’t interested in serving a required active duty service of five years upon graduation.

McDonald didn’t mind playing a different position in college, as long as he was put in a position to make plays for his team, he said.

He initially committed to Wyoming as a defensive back; however, two weeks before signing day, he declined the offer because the distance was too far from home. He decided to attend UH instead because it was the closest school to his home that offered him a scholarship.

When McDonald, along with his mother and brother, talked to head coach Tony Levine about possible positions to play, he initially hoped to play slot receiver so he could make plays in the open field.

“We’re always up-front and honest with our recruits,” Levine said. “We were clear with him by saying, ‘We want you to come to the University of Houston as a skilled player,’ and we very quickly determined he would play on the defensive side of the ball.”

Making plays

The coaching staff intended to redshirt McDonald, but with his development on special teams and the ability to make plays, he ended up starting the last three games of the 2012 season and competing in nine. He had interceptions against UTEP and Marshall and forced two fumbles and recovered another against Tulane.

“We knew he had all the intangibles of a great athlete,” Spavital said. “The advantage of getting a high school quarterback is that they’re smart and just a pure student of the game.”

One of his forced fumbles occurred when he chased down and poked the ball out from behind a Tulane receiver who had a clear path to the end zone — the same type of play that Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu made against the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 8, the day after McDonald’s game-clinching interception.

McDonald said Mathieu, a former LSU All-American, is a player who possesses skills he idolizes as a constant playmaker. He said he keeps Mathieu as a wallpaper on his cellphone to motivate him to achieve the same impact for the Cougars.

“You’re talking about a true freshman (McDonald), who, a year ago, was a high-school option quarterback that is now intercepting passes and causing fumbles playing defense; that’s pretty special,” Levine said.

[button size=small style=less_round color=red align=none url=]McDonald’s game-clinching interception[/button]

[email protected]


  • The way he leaped up and stretched his body in a back bend curl to make that interception was amazing. And, he did it being 5’10”.

  • I originally thought that the ball in the Temple game flew over his head but when we starting running it back I said “he actually caught that ball??!” The kid can play!

  • The interception by McDonald in the Temple game was nothing short of amazing, He showed great leaping ability with a perfectly timed jump to snare that high ball over his head. I marveled at his ability to judge the trajectory of the ball so well. He is an NFL prospect. To cap it all, he showed a good running ability as well.

Leave a Comment