Jayden McDonald hungry to return to the field

Published 10:22 am Monday, August 7, 2023

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Troy linebacker Jayden McDonald has had to watch from the sidelines for much of the past two seasons – due to injuries – and the senior is hungry to return to the field in 2023.

McDonald, a 6-foot, 226-pound, Suwanee, Ga., native started his college career at Iowa. Following his redshirt freshman season, the former Georgia High School Defensive Player of the Year transferred to Troy. In 2020, McDonald was the No. 7 rated linebacker in the entire country by ProFootballFocus, earning 67 tackles and four tackles-for-loss in 11 games.

Troy linebacker Jayden McDonald (10) returns a fumble for a touchdown during a scrimmage in 2022. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

Alongside Carlton Martial and KJ Robertson, McDonald was among the leading tacklers during the first seven games of 2021 – tallying 36 tackles and 6.5 tackles-for-loss – before an ankle injury ended his season in the eighth game of the season.

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McDonald returned to the field in 2022 and earned two starts to begin the season before a severe knee injury against Appalachian State, just three games into the season, once again prematurely ended his season.

McDonald wasn’t able to suit up for spring practices back in April but as fall camp began last week, McDonald was back on the practice field once again.

“(He) was having a great year last year and your heart breaks for a kid like that when something like that happens,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said. “Him and (defensive tackle) Luis (Medina) getting hurt like that in the same game really was heartbreaking and I’m just fired up to see them both back out here.”

McDonald was equally as fired up to be back on the practice field.

“It feels great just to be back out here with the guys,” McDonald said. “I worked so hard to get back. I’ve been playing so long, so when I was away from it for so long it kind of challenged me mentally. You have to fight through that adversity and come back stronger and that’s what I’m looking to do.”

It didn’t take McDonald long to get back into the thick of things in practice, either. In Troy’s first day in shells – on Friday – he could be seen flying around on the field once again.

“Jayden is a fiery, passionate and energetic guy. He has that ‘heart and soul’ mentality of our defense and the other guys feed of him,” Sumrall said. “He’s an emotional leader and I’m just fired up to be able to watch him come back. He’s doing a good job out there, he has to shake some of that rust off as you do coming off an injury, but he’s moving around good and making good plays in space.

“He had a couple of thuds today that I was really impressed with. So, I think he’s on the right track.”

McDonald said he likes what he’s seen from some of his new teammates, as well.

“(Fall camp) has been going good, I’m just getting back in the groove of things,” McDonald said. “We have some young guys stepping up like Luke (Hodge) and (Steven Cattledge), a whole bunch of guys. I feel like we’re gelling together and we just have to keep stacking (good) days.”

With the departure of Martial and Robertson, McDonald understands his role in trying to fill some of their production and says he believes the 2023 squad as a whole can fill that void.

“We had two great players there last year, KJ and Carlton, so that’s a lot of production we have to replace,” he continued. “We are very, very capable of doing it, though, by the work we put in every day. I feel like this is a good group and we’ll be ready to go this year.”

When asked about what his goals are after returning to the field, McDonald didn’t hesitate.

“A championship,” he bluntly said. “Obviously, you have personal goals but the main goal is a championship. We’re building that team bonding all the time and that is going to help us get to that goal.”