ORANGEBURG — A few games into his senior season at Stratford High School, Knights head coach Ray Stackley pulled starting quarterback Tyler McDonald aside and asked him if he’d be interested in playing a game or two at wide receiver.
McDonald By The Numbers
Year GP Rec. Yards Avg. TDs
2010 12 33 333 10.1 2
2011 11 41 573 14.0 4
2012 11 34 527 15.5 4
2013 6 18 559 31.1 5
Totals 40 126 1,992 15.8 15
McDonald, who had been a quarterback his entire career, was reluctant to make the switch at first. But after thinking about it overnight, figured if it would help the team, then he was willing to make the move. What McDonald didn’t know at the time was that Stackley made the suggestion not for the team’s benefit, but for McDonald.
McDonald played parts of two games at wide receiver for the Knights later that season. Stackley quickly put together a highlight reel of his multi-talented senior to convince college coaches that the former quarterback could be a playmaker at wide receiver at the next level.
“Tyler was a great high school quarterback, but I just felt like he was going to be a wide receiver in college,” Stackley said. “Tyler was a great athlete, he ran very well, but honestly, he had average arm strength. You could tell he had very soft hands and I just knew one day he was going to be a great wide receiver if he put the work in.”
But not even Stackley could have envisioned just how good of a wide receiver McDonald would eventually become.
A four-year starter at South Carolina State, McDonald is on the verge of becoming the Bulldogs’ all-time leading receiver this season. McDonald has caught 126 passes for 1,992 yards and 15 touchdowns. He needs just 10 more receptions and 165 receiving yards to break both school marks. Six more times in the end zone and he’ll own the touchdown record as well.
“I guess coach Stackley was right all along,” McDonald said with a chuckle. “He kept asking me to try wide receiver my senior season, and when I finally listened to him, I started to get hooked on the position. I loved being a quarterback, but I realized pretty quickly that being a wide receiver is probably my natural position.”
McDonald has been among the top wide receivers in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this season. In six games, McDonald has 18 receptions for 559 yards and five TDs. He is averaging an eye-popping 31.8 yards a reception.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen a player as focused as Tyler has been this season in a long, long time,” said S.C. State coach Buddy Pough. “He’s playing at such a high level. He is so much more consistent with everything he does this year during games and on the practice field. I just think the light came on for him and he’s showing what he’s capable of doing.”
But setting records isn’t what McDonald is all about. He is more concerned about getting the Bulldogs another MEAC title before his career is over.
“The records aren’t something I think a lot about,” McDonald said. “I came here to win football games, to win the conference championship and get into the playoffs. The individual stuff doesn’t matter to me right now. I’m sure when my career is done and I’ll look back on it, it’ll mean more to me.”
And that’s just the kind of attitude that has made McDonald successful throughout his career.
“Tyler is not a selfish player. There are times when I’d like him to be a little more selfish,” Pough said. “He needs to assert himself a little more. We need to get him the ball as much as we can. He’s a guy that can make plays for us, but sometimes he needs to be a little more vocal out there.”
He certainly got the attention of the Clemson secondary earlier this season when he grabbed four passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
“I didn’t go into the game thinking it was Clemson and I needed to prove anything,” McDonald said. “I feel like I’ve got something to prove no matter who we’re playing against. Clemson was just another game for me.”
At 6-3 and 190 pounds, McDonald has the size, speed and big-play potential to play at the next level, Pough said. McDonald has four catches for more than 60 yards already this season.
“He has the skillset to play in the NFL,” Pough said. “The only thing he really needs to work on is his blocking, but as far as catching the ball and running routes, he definitely has that ability.”
McDonald has also proven to be a versatile receiver, which should make him more marketable in the NFL. He has played both the outside and slot positions during his career with the Bulldogs. During his freshman year, he more than held his own during practices with former Bulldogs Phillip Adams (Oakland Raiders) and Rafael Bush (New Orleans Saints), both of whom play in the NFL.
“I learned a lot from those guys,” McDonald said. “I know I’m a better football player because of them.”
South Carolina State wide receiver Tyler McDonald is upended by Clemson's Garry Peter's during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.(AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)×