Newest Jets’ DE Will McDonald IV says football changed his life

·5 min read

Following a stellar junior season at Iowa State, Will McDonald IV had an opportunity to be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Instead, McDonald decided to return to school primarily for a specific reason.

McDonald wanted to receive his degree from Iowa State in liberal studies as he was the first person in his family to graduate from college. Although he realized he had an opportunity to play in the NFL as a sophomore with the Cyclones, it was important for McDonald to finish what he started and he did last year.

After delaying his dream, McDonald was selected 15th overall by the Jets Thursday night.

“I didn’t want to go back home empty-handed and the only one that went to college and didn’t do anything with it,” McDonald said. “I think that Year really shaped me, especially after my brother passed away. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t for nothing.

“I just wanted to have him see me do that.”

McDonald’s journey to the NFL began in Wisconsin, where he grew up, attending Waukesha North High School, where he played multiple sports before playing football during his junior season. He was rated a three-star recruit by Rivals, 247Sports, and ESPN. McDonald was ranked as a top-five player in Wisconsin as he registered 61 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Eventually, McDonald received a scholarship to Iowa State after choosing them over Minnesota and Baylor.

“It gave me an opportunity,” McDonald said about playing football. “I was able to change my path from going to the Army to being a number one draft pick.

“Definitely changed my life and it has definitely taught me a lot of discipline and poise. The types of moments football can teach you a lot of things in life.”

In addition to the football field, McDonald was a standout in basketball and track and field. In 2018, McDonald was named the Classic 8 Player of the Year in basketball, averaging 18.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. He was also was state track & field discus champion.

McDonald says playing multiple sports helped him as a pass rusher.

“Quickness, balance, hand-eye coordination,” McDonald said. “Not only basketball but jiu-jitsu, I wrestle, I know how to unicycle, skateboarding, soccer, just all of that.

“Then watching Von Miller, Max Crosby, the Bosas [Chargers’ Joey Bosa and 49ers’ Nick Bosa], [J.J.] Watt, Aaron Donald, all of them. They’re all smooth and fast. I just put all of that together and that makes the versatile player that I am.

The last 24 hours for McDonald have been a whirlwind, as with any player drafted on the first night of the draft. After speaking with the Jets and being selected, he spoke to the New York media for the first time via Zoom.

Then he flew to New Jersey and visited the Jets facility for the first time. McDonald told reporters that he was running on 45 minutes of sleep.

“It is just like an honor,” McDonald said. “I wasn’t expecting myself to be here six, seven years from now. Just being able to show my family and friends that there is a way to do things and there is a way to reach your goals.”

When McDonald got to Florham Park, he saw a familiar face, his Iowa State teammate, running back Breece Hall, as they spent three seasons in Ames together (2019-22). Last Year, the Jets selected Hall in the second round as he was part of an all-star rookie class that included cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who won the NFL Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards.

Hall probably would have been a candidate to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, but he tore his ACL last October. He is expected to be ready for training camp as he and newly signed wide receiver Allen Lazard will provide some familiar Iowa State faces McDonald can lean on.

“I mean, we were already talking on the phone and everything, McDonald said about Hall. “We actually talked like yesterday before the draft. He was just telling me how proud he was and everything.

“Once I got the call, he was actually on the call with Coach [Matt] Campbell and I was like, ‘oh, yo, I’m going to the Jets.’ It will be me, you and Allen [Lazard], we are going to be Cyclone boys.

Now after posting 125 tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss and 34 sacks at Iowa State, McDonald will join a talented Gang Green’s defensive line that includes first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and defensive ends Johnson, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Micheal Clemons who the team drafted last year. During free agency, the Jets also signed defensive Quinton Jefferson, who has the ability to play as a defensive tackle and an edge rusher.

“You guys know how we are with rotation and making sure that everybody touches the field,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “We come at you in waves, we dress 10 guys on gameday and with Aaron [Rodgers] here, hopefully, we’re playing with a few more leads and we got a guy that can close the door on some offenses and get to the quarterback.

“He’s just got a unique ability to catch the corner and he’s got elite length to get the ball out, so he’s going to be special.”

Being selected 15th overall on Thursday night was bittersweet for McDonald. Although he celebrated with close ones in attendance, one member of his family was not there for the special moment.

McDonald’s brother died in 2021 while he was at Iowa State. Since then, McDonald has honored him by wearing a chain with his brother’s picture on it. While he didn’t have the chain on when he received the call from the Jets Thursday night, McDonald did keep the chain close by for the special moment.

“He’s always in my wallet,” McDonald said. “I’m glad that he was able to see me get this opportunity. I know he wasn’t here physically, but I know spiritually, he was here with me.

“I just hope he’s still watching.”