His path into Division I football was far from traditional, but McDonald's decision to return to the gridiron, at least for the Cowboys, was well worth the wait.
A star cornerback for Cherry Creek High School (Colo.) back in 2005, McDonald's physical skills and athleticism had colleges across the West salivating for a commitment from the 6-foot-3 lockdown defender.
"I was getting recruited by UCLA, CSU, Wyoming of course, Air Force, Michigan State and Kansas State," he said.
In fact, that was only the tip of the iceberg. After leading the state of Colorado with nine interceptions his junior season, McDonald had a slew of teams from the PAC-10, Big 10 and Big 12 sending letters and asking for film. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Iowa State, Nebraska and Oklahoma all showed heavy interest in the athletic corner during his senior year.
If there was a downside to McDonald's football potential, however, it was that he was too good an athlete. Just six days before he graduated, he was drafted to play professional baseball by the Philadelphia Phillies, and he left football and college behind the next year.
"I wanted to see how that baseball life was, so I signed knowing that I could always go back and play football," he said. "I mean, that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I took it."
A season in the minors left him less than satisfied, however.
"It went okay, but it didn't go as good as I thought it would," he said. "I hit like .266, but I didn't feel too successful in what I was doing."
"He missed football a lot," said his mother, Shona Kunz. "When he was playing professional baseball, in his contract, it said that he could not ever play football if he was playing baseball with them."
McDonald was forced to make a decision between the two sports, and fortunately for Cowboys fans, he decided to return to football and get his degree in the process. Wyoming became his first choice.
"The only one he contacted was Coach Glenn," Kunz said. "He asked me about CSU and Colorado, and I said, ‘Well that's up to you,' and he said, ‘No, I know some of the ball players (at CSU and CU) and they don't like the programs. I'm going to stick with Wyoming.' That's the only one he's been really, truly fascinated with."
McDonald and his mother made a visit to Laramie Oct. 6 for the Pokes' conference opener against TCU, and both came away even more confident in the decision to become a Cowboy.
"They treated me better than anybody has," he said. "They won the game. That was the first time they've beat (TCU) in forever."
"We got treated like gold. It was just everything that he wanted," Kunz said. "Casey Glenn and Joe Glenn and the whole staff have been so nice. They've been very accommodating."
And why wouldn't they be? McDonald will add another dimension to an already talented Cowboys secondary, and the two years away from football may have actually improved his game.
Perhaps the best pass defender in Colorado high school ball two years ago, McDonald's height alone was enough to give him an almost unfair advantage against wide receivers. Since then, he's put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle and says he feels like a better football player now than ever before.
"I'm…about 200 pounds," he said, "and I feel a lot stronger and a lot faster.
"In high school, I was down to like a 4.48 (40)...but (now) I'll have a lot more explosiveness because of the baseball training."
McDonald plans on enrolling at Wyoming in January of 2008 and said there is no chance he'll change his mind about becoming a Cowboy.
"It was kind of a clear choice because Wyoming, they were pretty much the most loyal recruiters my senior year," he said. "I liked how they were on me so good, and they're a pretty good football team, and it's only two and a half hours away from home."
Thank You Phillies…
Oddly enough, however, were it not for baseball, McDonald would not have committed to the Cowboys. The possibility of being drafted deterred most DI schools from offering the athletic corner a scholarship in high school, and despite garnering recruiting interest across the West, he eventually signed a letter of intent to play for DI-AA squad Idaho State.
"It was because I had a bunch of family over there," he said of choosing the Bengals. "The whole side of my mom's family is over there, so I thought I'd go there."
The Pokes are thankful he didn't, and so far, it seems, so is McDonald.
"I'll be able to play in spring football, and then I'm going to stay up there in the summer and take a couple of classes and work out with the team and everything," he said.
His two year hiatus from football prevents Wyoming from extending a scholarship to McDonald for the time being, but he said the school promised him an offer once he makes the first or second team.
In the meantime, it will be baseball that pays the bills—even though his focus will be directed on the gridiron.
"I'm just going to walk on," he said. "I actually have school money from my contract in baseball."
Wyoming is looking at McDonald primarily as a safety, but he may log time as a wide receiver as well. He will be 20 years old by the time the Cowboys open their '08 season.
McDonald's two older brothers, Darnell and Donzell, also passed up college football scholarships to play professional baseball, and his father played for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization before playing football at Colorado State.
His athletic lineage seemed to take effect at a young age; he began playing football, baseball and basketball in Boise at five years old. "He's been playing all three throughout this entire time," Kunz said. "Darin is just sports-minded. He has been since he was born."
McDonald is the Pokes' first defensive back prospect to commit for the '08 season.
We would like to thank Editor-In-Chief Matt Willie of CowboyBlitz.com for allowing us to republish this article on former Phillies' minor leaguer Darin McDonald.