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Former NFL Linebacker Delivers Hard Hitting Message

By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor

As a child, Devon McDonald stuttered. His friends would ask him to talk in his native Jamaican accent.

"Then they would laugh at me," he told seventh, eighth and ninth graders at Willard High School.

Perhaps McDonald, who is now president of Sports World, had the last laugh on those who bullied and made fun of him. He went on to graduate from high school and Notre Dame where he was named MVP of the Cotton Bowl in 1993 and went on to a career in the National Football League as outside linebacker.

McDonald talked about the energy teens feel when they attend high school and are with friends.

"It's all good," he said. "It's also how you direct it. I believe in life you should have fun, but life is serious, too."

McDonald's career on the gridiron is the dream of most football players at any age. He was named the Indianapolis Colts Special Team Player of the Year in 1994; was chosen as the "Unsung Hero of the Year" in 1990 by Colts fans; was named All-American Honorable mention in 1992, served as team captain at Notre Dame in 1992 and was on the Notre Dame National Champion football team in 1992.

He played his pro NFL career from 1993-1995 with the Indianapolis Colts, from 1995-1996 with the Arizona Cardinals and finished his pro career with the Tampa Bay Storm from 2002-2002.

According to McDonald, for the first 26 years of his life he did not know why he was here. He said he did drugs and drank alcohol while in high school. He came home drunk and got in fights with his mom.

"I no longer drink or use drugs," he told students at Willard High School. "I no longer have a need for it."

To be successful, according to McDonald, students need to know what they are doing, believe in what they are doing and to love what they are doing. Talking to students and helping them make good decisions and stop bullying is something he said he believes in, knows how to talk about and loves the chance he gets to be with young teens and to reach out.

"I believe it's great to visit a school like this," he noted, "or I wouldn't be doing it. I've been your age. You haven't been mine."

McDonald said he loved watching sports when he was young. His parents did not spend much time with him as he grew up. He stuttered but he had his own dream where he saw himself talking in public but noted he is now living his dream.

"I wanted to be able to talk in front of a lot of people," he recalled. "There was no way I could be a president of a company without being able to speak in public."

McDonald said he recognizes the struggles teens go through when they are "different."

"When you are different, people make fun of you," he said. "They put you down and make you feel like you are a mistake. You are not a mistake. You are designed for a purpose. You are not junk. You are very important."

Choices at any age can be tough, he pointed out. Positive choices can help people grow. Negative choices stop that growth or cause a person to die. People who bully or tease are making bad choices.

"If you're putting people down and taunting them to make yourself bigger, it will stay with you as you get older," McDonald pointed out. "As you get older you will perpetuate that behavior. If you are doing the bullying, I am saying stop. It will come back to you.

"Those of you that are being bullied, or if you are dealing with something, tell someone," he added. "Communicate. We are not built to keep those things in. If you are being molested or bullied, you need to communicate.

"You don't conquer anything if you don't confront it," McDonald stressed. "You don't need to confront them and fight with them. You communicate."

If they need help, McDonald said any student can go to a teacher or administrator.

"This is why they went into higher education. They want to give back to you," he pointed out. "Knowing what to do is so critical."

"Everyone has dreams that are particular to you. They are your future," McDonald said. "You are in school today to be successful. In order to be successful, you have to know what you are doing. You need to have a goal.

"You believe in what you are doing," he reiterated. "Then love what you are doing."

McDonald set his goals early. In his sophomore year, he said he got a new football coach and told him he wanted to play Division 1 football and then go into the NFL. His coach told him he would never fulfill that dream.

"It's not what they're saying," he said. "It's what you're thinking. I disagreed with the coach, but I didn't disrespect him, either."

McDonald decided to change to a rival school. His fraternal twin brother stayed at the other school at the beginning of their junior year. At his new school that year, his team had the worst record in New Jersey.

"In my senior year I took responsibility in life," McDonald pointed out. "I believe in life. When you believe in life, you take responsibility. Then when you take responsibility, you take action."

Which is exactly what the high school senior said he did going into his last year. The focus, he noted, paid off. His team went 10-0-1 and went from the worst team in New Jersey to one of the best.

For some students, McDonald said the A's may come easy. They do not have to study hard to succeed. He had a challenge for those students.

"Can you imagine how much farther you could go if you worked as hard as you can?" he asked. "Are you doing the very best you can do and be?"

Every moment, according to McDonald, students have to make decisions. He said he made those decisions when he was the same age.

"I knew I wanted to go on and be someone great," McDonald said. "Know. Believe. Love."

McDonald said he played for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame. He said Holtz made his three promises, all on the way to his dream.

"You will graduate from Notre Dame," McDonald recalled. "You will play on a National Championship team. Every game you play will be on national television."

McDonald was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round. His dream, he said, came true. His only sack in the NFL was Dan Marino. He loved playing in the NFL.

"Decisions," he said. "A bad decision will take your dream away. You're not born a winner. You're not born a loser. You're born a chooser. I am living my dream."

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