McDonald Blazes by Receivers, School Records

Sophomore slump? Last year, Shaun McDonald snuck up on unsuspecting defenses, and was more like a sophomore sensation. This year, the wide receiver shattered not only all his records from last year, but also the team ones to establish himself as one of the best in the nation. How does he accomplish those feats when you're the focal point of opposing defenses each game? In this exclusive Devils Digest interview, the junior answers that question and many more.

Much like his offensive cohort Andrew Walter, McDonald started his journey to a career season as a reserve. In his 2001 campaign, the Shadow Mountain High School graduate amassed 1,104 yards on 47 receptions. He scored ten touchdowns, and averaged a shade over a 100 yards a game. This year with a relatively young and inexperienced core of receivers around him, he has taken his game to another level. With two games left this year, he's already set ASU single season records in receptions (75), and receiving yards (1,280). In all likelihood, with his 13 touchdowns he will also concur that single season record, which stands at 14, and if he keeps his 106 yards average a game that feat will translate to another Sun Devil milestone that will crumble. When we asked him how has he accomplished back-to-back career years, he humbly credits his teammates.

"I think the team is better this year, and we're playing more like a team and playing with a lot more confidence. We're just going out there and making a lot more plays than last year. I think Daryl Lightfoot is a legitimate #2 receiver. He's been playing great the last few games, and he's improving every week. He's gonna be a great receiver for us next year. Derek Hagan and Terry Richardson are gonna be great for us too. They just make great catches, and they're not playing like freshmen. Fulton does a lot of dirty work clearing out routes for us. That's how our system is, and he just goes out there and gets it done. Every route counts, and he contributes a lot to our passing game. If all those guys don't play well, I can't make my plays."

His 1,280 yards are good enough for fifth all time in the Pac-10 – a conference which produced several accomplished receivers throughout the last few decades. When pressed about what he personally did to enhance his already remarkable skills, the junior replied: "It took a lot from me to improve. I worked out with all the quarterbacks and receivers in the summer. I also worked a lot more on my short game routes." McDonald's desire to be more than a one year wonder played a big motivating role. "I definitely thought I would have a better year (in 2002) than last year. I knew I had to improve, because all you hear is how receivers who have one good year, fall of the map the next year. I didn't want to be like that. I wanted to be a player who competes hard all through his career, and working hard on your game can only help."

With success comes the inevitable pressure. As mentioned, last year not much was expected from McDonald and his contributions to the Sun Devils' arial attack. This season, to say that opposing defensive backs have painted a huge bulls eye on his back, is like saying that Phoenix gets warm during the summer. That being said, the ASU wide out wouldn't want it any other way. "It can get frustrating when see teams double team or bracket (when defenders sandwich a receiver in the front and in the back, usually with a safety helping out) you. But I know if I'm doubled team, I have all the confidence in Daryl or Skyler making the play when they're in man coverage…I want to be in this position (heavily defended) because I want to be the best receiver in the nation. If you get a lot of attention from the defense, that means they show you respect. That's the situation I want to be in."

Clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash has earned him the title of the fastest player on the team. "I don't brag about in the locker room (smile). I've been the fastest guy for a while, so I don't have to brag about. They know there's truth behind that (smile)." However, he doesn't mind using his god given talent even when a passing play does not necessitate leaving your defender running you down. "I think speed kills, so that has to be my best skill. But I know I have good hands, and I can make a catch in a crowd. I like to go deep and utilize my speed, but I don't mind running the shorter routes. As along as I can catch the ball and make a play, I'll run any route the coaches ask me too." While his demeanor is very unassuming, he relishes in the role of leader and mentor. "A lot of young receivers told me at the beginning of the year, that they want to watch me and learn the system from me. I just try to help them as much as I can in the locker room and on the field. If they get better, then the team gets better."

A wide receiver's success is mostly contingent on the play of his quarterback. Suffice to say that McDonald has been just a tad giddy witnessing the rise to greatness by Andrew Walter. "Oh yeah. I'm happy he's our quarterback (smile). He does a great job getting you the ball in the hole. He's just gets better each week. He already looks like a veteran." Oddly enough, despite the tremendous numbers he's putting up with Walter under center, the junior never really built a strong rapport with him during the off-season. "There were so many quarterbacks and receivers working out in the summer, so it's not like it was only Chad (Christensen) or Andrew throwing to me. You really get to work on chemistry with your quarterback in camp and during the season."

At the beginning of his Sun Devil career, Shaun was known as Tariq McDonald's younger brother. While the older brother has a nice career in the maroon and gold, the younger McDonald has build his own legacy rather quickly. The junior cherishes his relationship with his older sibling. "I'm definitely came here to ASU to play with my brother. I'm bummed I never got to play with him because I redshirted the last year he was here. I did learn a lot from him when I was redshirting, and I'm very grateful I did get to be on the team with him." Tariq did leave the Sun Devils in his junior year to enter the NFL draft. Unfortunately for him that move backfired. He signed only as a free agent, and never made much of an impact on Sundays. Nevertheless, Shaun says that Tariq's experience won't necessarily deter him from leaving ASU after this year. "Tariq's situation was totally different than mine. We're two different players. Of cousre I'll sit down with him, and talk about his experience. His opinion means a lot to me. Right now, I'm worried about U of A, and the bowl game. After the season, I'll sit down with the coaches and everybody else and see what's best for me and best for the team. We're just gonna take care of that when the season is over."

With the season finale in Tucson looming large, the competitive juices are flowing strongly in the Sun Devils' veins these days. For McDonald, it may be even more so. Not only did he play his high school career in Phoenix, which always intensifies (for good or for bad) one's feelings towards ASU's archrival, but his cousin is former Arizona star basketball player Mike Bibby. "I think everybody's fired up, not just me. We want to go out there and destroy them. I know they're gonna try to come in and destroy us. No matter how many points they put on us last year, it was embarrassing to lose to your rival, especially at home. We didn't finish well last year, and we want to go out strong this year and beat them." Coach Dirk Koetter talked about the additional team meetings he's holding during the practices leading up to the Arizona game. The junior shares with us the connect of those gatherings. "In the team meetings the coaches are telling us to let it all go, have fun, and play Sun Devil Football. But they also tell us there's a fine line between playing with emotion and making stupid mistakes. We have a pretty smart team, so we're gonna be pumped up but also try not to get stupid penalties. It's the last regular season game, and we want to get this (three game) losing streak of our back."

Despite his gaudy statistics, Shaun McDonald's demeanor is one of humility. With all the heroics he displayed this season, he doesn't even fantasize about being the hero that would win a nail biting game against the Sun Devils' nemesis next week. "I don't care who scores the winning touchdown. I rather the score be 50-0 with five seconds left (smile). But if the final score is 1-0 or 6,000-0, we just want the win!" Win or lose in the next two games, the ASU standout has accomplished what some of his teammates can only dream about. One can only wonder what he will achieve next year. That is if there is a next year…

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