Yet, somehow, national letter of intent signing day came and went and the Wauwatosa East signal-caller was still looking for a dance partner. Not a single program had offered him a football scholarship, East coach Tom Swittel said last week in telephone interview.
Donovan was a consensus first-team all-state quarterback as a senior last fall, after throwing for 2,139 yards, 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions for an 8-3 East squad. He also ran for four touchdowns. He posted similar numbers as a junior—1,666 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions; two rushing scores—and was an honorable mention all-state choice.
He stands 6-foot-5, 180 pounds and is the best quarterback Swittel has seen in nearly three decades of coaching.
"I've coached football since 1979…. and I'm telling you, I haven't seen somebody like him," Swittel said.
Yet Donovan is still waiting.
He is a good all-around athlete, currently averaging 8.8 points per game as a starter on East's 15-1 basketball team.
Alas, it is Donovan's summer sport that has him in a bind when it comes to football. Donovan is one of the state's top prep baseball players and he has a Division I scholarship offer to pitch at UW-Milwaukee.
According to Swittel, that offer has scared off Division II football programs from offering Donovan, since they cannot match Milwaukee's full scholarship.
And last spring, when college football programs were making the rounds during the NCAA evaluation period, Donovan was not sure if he wanted to focus on football or baseball.
That has changed, however.
"Jeff would love to play football," Swittel said. The hope at this point is that a Division I program that may have lost out on a quarterback prior to signing day will turn to Donovan.
Donovan, though, received relatively little interest from college coaches this fall, despite consistently thrashing East's opponents with his passing skills. Again, baseball is a factor in his anonymity on the recruiting scene. Schools increasingly rely on the camps they host to evaluate football prospects. But East plays summer baseball, so Donovan was only able to make it to one camp last summer—a one-day event at Northern Illinois.
Said Swittel: "Everybody that came in (during the spring evaluation period), from Wisconsin to Ball State to Northern Illinois to Western Michigan… they all wanted Jeff to go to their camp." Donovan fit the NIU camp into his baseball schedule—he pitched the day after throwing about 350 passes—and ended developing a case of tendonitis.
"(The schools) were very upfront with Jeff and with me in saying that quarterback's a position that ‘We want to see you throw live,'" Swittel said. "I know he didn't disappoint Northern Illinois with his arm… but these other schools that didn't see him live in that situation, I don't know how much it marked him down in their eyes."
For some football programs, refraining from attending a camp effectively removes that student-athlete from scholarship consideration. Swittel believes this is very much the case when it comes to quarterbacks.
"What I was told by a number of people (is that) for punters, kickers and quarterbacks, you've got to go to camp," Swittel said. "Those other positions, not as important. But they want to see your particular skill. They want to see you throw live. That's the bottom line if you're a quarterback."
That may have been the case with Wisconsin. The Badgers evaluated Donovan in the spring and were very interested in bringing him in for a camp. But he did not attend one and dropped off their radar.
"There has been no contact with me with Wisconsin at all. I mean zero since last spring," said Swittel, who tried to contact the Badgers' staff to recommend Donovan, but to no avail.
Two other factors disadvantaged Donovan. In an era when colleges increasingly want a mobile quarterback, Donovan times at 5.0 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Swittel said. He has a terrific arm and performed well when East employed shotgun option sets, but many programs, including Wisconsin's, want to turn to a more athletic signal-caller.
"There's probably a lot of reasons why a kid like that has fallen through the cracks," Swittel said. "And to me it's really unfortunate."
Swittel said that Donovan has an ideal situation with the UW-Milwaukee baseball offer. The Panthers are not pressuring him, and the letter of intent signing period for baseball does not begin until April 12, 11 days after the Feb. 1-April 1 football signing period ends.
Donovan has not been offered a serious walk-on opportunity for football yet either, Swittel said, though Arizona State has said they would like him to take a visit, and Swittel suspects that ASU wants to offer a walk-on slot.
While Donovan is eager for a football scholarship, the opportunity to play football and baseball in college would be enticing. And UWM does not have a football team. One tempting option, interestingly enough, is Division III UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks won a national championship in baseball last summer and were the national runner-up for football in the fall.
"He's given some thought to doing both and I know Whitewater really wants him badly," Swittel said. "So maybe he ends up doing that."