But dressed in the traditional graduation garb, speaking in front of a large audience at USC's student athlete graduation, the 6-time Pro Bowler took a deep breath.
"It's been a long journey," he said, and his weary eyes confirmed the statement.
And when he exhaled, all the promises McDonald made to his sons about education were fulfilled. With this breath, he could revel in T.J. and Tevin's pride. It was a big moment, perhaps one of his biggest.
"We're so proud. This whole journey that he's gone through speaks about what a competitor he is," said Trojan strong safety and Tim's son T.J.
Sure McDonald wanted to beat his sons to getting a degree first. It was a friendly competition that he won. But for McDonald to make the weekly trips from Fresno, Calif. to South Los Angeles to attend class, after playing 13 years in the NFL and starting various businesses, such perseverance isn't about friendly competition. That's McDonald playing the part of Dad.
"I wouldn't let them stay home a day from school, [I preached] 'education, education, education' and then all of a sudden it's so hypocritical because I hadn't gotten mine done," father McDonald said.
His sons weren't the only ones who noticed McDonald's tenacity, his courage. Often he would make an appearance at an early Spring practice in between homework and tests and talk to other Trojans.
"It shows you that football is not forever and you're going to need to get your degree at some point, no matter how successful you've been," said tailback Marc Tyler, who also walked in graduation Friday.
The former All-American at USC left college early after being drafted 34th overall by the then St. Louis Cardinals franchise. The 46-year old, who wore number 46 in the NFL, was a coach at his former Edison High where his sons played, and has been married to longtime sweetheart Alycia for more than two decades. To many aspiring athletes, McDonald is a success even without a diploma.
"It's just special because he's done all the things we want to do in life," said Malcolm Smith, former USC linebacker and recent Seattle Seahawks pick in this year's draft. "It's good to see somebody go through the process and come back."
Tim McDonald speaks at his graduation ceremony. (Pierson Clair/PC4Media)
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