In the town of Lawton, Okla., there are three public high schools that service sports programs for aspiring student athletes. Lawton High School, MacArthur High School and Eisenhower High School have produced a combined total of 23 players who have gone on to find their way onto an NFL roster.
Over the next few months, Chargers undrafted rookie free agent Adrian McDonald will attempt to become No. 24.
Prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, McDonald garnered interest and had conversations with a few teams, one of which was the Houston Texans. His hope was to hear his name called before the end of Day 3, but seven rounds came and went without McDonald’s name being announced from the podium in Chicago.
But the next sound the young safety would hear would be a very distinctive ring coming from his phone: San Diego was calling.
McDonald saw an opportunity in the Chargers’ secondary as San Diego surprisingly did not invest one of their eight draft choices on a safety to replace the void left by Eric Weddle.
In 2015, McDonald started every game for the Houston Cougars. He recorded four interceptions and finished second on the team with 92 tackles. Playing alongside cornerback William Jackson III, the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick, McDonald helped the Cougars finish with a 8-1 record in the AAC along with the eighth-best run defense in FBS rankings.
According to Chad Reuter of NFL.com, the best word to describe McDonald would be “ballhawk.” Even though he’s a bit undersized for the position (5-foot-11, 190 pounds, which is the same size as former Eagles safety Walter Thurmond), the numbers for McDonald can’t be understated. As a team captain, McDonald finished his tenure at the University of Houston on a high note, setting a college record with 17 career interceptions and finished third all-time in recovered fumbles and fifth all-time in forced fumbles.
While college stats don’t always translate to NFL level production, McDonald believes that one of his best attributes is always being around the football.
“I would say my greatest strengths are having a nose for the football,” McDonald said, via an interview with New Era Scouting’s Scott Porter. “I make a lot of plays. I read the QB well. I have good instincts and am very productive.”
History is on McDonald’s side as the Chargers have a long-documented record of finding gems in the undrafted free-agent pool. Over the last 13 years, the Chargers struck gold with tight end Antonio Gates, offensive lineman Kris Dielman and even wide receiver Malcom Floyd. Last season, San Diego had four UDFA’s make the final 53-man roster after signing kicker Josh Lambo, inside linebacker Nick Dzubnar, wide receiver Tyrell Wiliams and tackle Tyreek Burwell. If McDonald wants to make an impression on the coaches this summer, he will have to outperform fellow teammates Adrian Phillips, a 2014 undrafted free agent, and Dexter McCoil, a CFL standout.
While he will be stepping into camp facing tough competition at the safety position, McDonald understands that earning a roster spot as an undrafted rookie means proving your worth in a variety of ways. One of those is on special teams.
“I’ve talked to the assistant DBs coach, the guy in charge of the safeties,” McDonald said, via Accfever.com’s Jay Saunders. “I know I’ll be battling some other undrafted free agents. Hopefully, I can get on and start off on special teams, something I really pride myself on.”
Being the underdog is a role that McDonald has embraced since his early football days at Eisenhower High School. While the long road from Lawton to the NFL is one only a handful of players have ever experienced, McDonald will attempt to continue his ritual of proving people wrong in training camp.