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Starting job a snap for McDonald

September 09, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ryan McDonald can say one thing about his current job.

It's a snap.

That's why the University of Maryland football team looked to keep him around a little longer.

In fact, he is the Terps' center of attention.

It is everything the Williamsport graduate wanted and everything he needed to return to play and start at center for the Terps in 2005.

"I was ready to move on," McDonald said while sitting in the Terps' Gossett Field House, the last place he thought he would be just six months ago. "I was going to apply to vetinary school, but didn't do it. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, then one wierd thing happened."

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It was that destiny phone call that is usually saved for the movies.

"I got a call from Coach (Ralph Friedgen)," McDonald said. "He said he was just watching me make the last couple of snaps in the Florida State game and thought about me. He was wondering if I wasn't doing anything, if I'd like to spend a year and come back and play football again."

The notion stopped McDonald in his tracks.

He planned to end his football-playing days and grow up for real. He ran out with the seniors - even though he was a junior in eligibilty - during Maryland's Senior Day season finale against Wake Forest. He was on the big scoreboard screen, running down the corridor lined with band members to meet his family at midfield for that one last time.

That was it.

Then came Friedgen's call. McDonald didn't exactly jump at the chance. It was more like a well-timed leap after much consideration.

"I wasn't sure what was going to happen with football, so I waited," McDonald said. "I needed to get my GPA up, so I needed to take a couple of more classes to get in to vet school. They offered me another scholarship, so I'm getting to take those classes to help me out."

And, oh yeah, there was one more consideration.

"I never really got to play," McDonald said. "When I left, I never got a real opportunity. I still had a year of eligibility. Now they are giving me the opportunity. You only get the chance to play college football once."

Or twice, in McDonald's case.

It was tempting enough to put his hopes of becoming a veterinarian on hold. McDonald never had a farm, but he worked on one and has the desire to make caring for farm animals his job.

It can wait because of the chance to play, especially since McDonald was returning to fill a dire need for the Terps.

When McDonald graduated, so did starting center Kyle Schmitt. Without their top two centers, the Terps were in trouble. They had no experience whatsoever with only a freshman, a redshirt freshman and sophomore Andrew Crummy, who was also needed at guard, able to play the position.

The 6-foot-2, 275-pound McDonald came to Maryland looking for a chance. He started his collegiate career as a tackle at Concord College in the West Virginia Conference in 2001. But a love of Maryland football and a desire to play for the Terps convinced him to transfer to College Park in '02.

He toiled behind centers Todd Wike and Schmitt, who were mainstays of the Terps' offense, for three years - the first as a redshirt - in relative obscurity.

It made this second opportunity all the more inviting.

McDonald, who returned to campus in the summer, started the season listed as the third-string center. Now he is proving everything was worth the wait.

"I'm getting more reps with the first team," McDonald said. "The offense was the same, they just changed the scheme a little. My focus is to get better because I have to make every snap."

McDonald got his first real taste of playing time last Saturday in Maryland's 23-20 win over Navy. Although a senior with little starting experience, McDonald was one of the most polished on the Terps' offensive line.

"Ryan played hard," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "He had some first-game jitters and made some assignment mistakes, but we had trouble with shotgun snaps before and today we didn't have any problems."

McDonald is doing his work on his terms. He's playing football, starting and getting his grades up with free classes so that he can apply to veterinary school.

"It's been a win, win, win, win situation," he said. "My folks are real excited. It's a second chance to see me on the field. You go to a game and see a local guy in the spotlight, it's more fun for everyone."

Most of the Terps' preseason has been surrounded by the development of quarterback Sam Hollenbach. Everyone realized Maryland couldn't move forward without strong quarterback play.

But the Terps wouldn't be moving at all without Ryan McDonald.

Afterall, he snaps the ball.

And that starts the play for Hollenbach.

"Every job is important," McDonald said. "Everybody has to work together to beat the other team."

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