An issue that led Dexter McDonald away from Kansas University’s football program the first time around turned out to be the very thing that brought him back.
Midway through the 2011 season, McDonald, then a red-shirt freshman from Rockhurst High in Kansas City, Mo., began getting a little playing time in the Jayhawks’ secondary and expected that more was on the way. When it didn’t come, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound cornerback became frustrated and let his disappointment affect his play and his academics.
“I didn’t do what I should’ve done in the classroom to stay at KU because I knew I wanted to transfer to a junior college, and I let my grades fall,” McDonald admitted on the day he signed, for the second time, with the Jayhawks earlier this month. “I left because of my grades, but my (bad) grades were due to me not doing anything because of the coaches that were there.”
By the end of the season, the man who recruited McDonald had been fired, and Charlie Weis had been hired to replace him. A change in coaches often means turnover in all areas of a program, and McDonald knew early on that his place on the roster was in serious jeopardy.
“I met with coach Weis at the time I left, but by that time it was already too late for me,” McDonald said.
Rather than sulk and let the disappointments continue to pile up, McDonald pulled himself together, enrolled at Butler Community College and began working on his game and his grades.
McDonald found success, and he credits it all to his new mind-set.
“Ultimately, the person that thrives is the person who pushes himself the most and works the hardest,” McDonald said. “I knew it was gonna be hard work on the field and hard work in class, but what I didn’t know was how I would manage both of those things. Now I’m more mature, and I know what’s most important.”
Weis said defensive coordinator Dave Campo and running-backs coach Reggie Mitchell, who served as the Jayhawks’ recruiting coordinator during McDonald’s first stint in Lawrence, played key roles in bringing McDonald back.
“Dexter, when he left, he was a little sour,” Weis said. “Reggie’s relationship with him got us to where we could talk. You can’t be presumptuous that a local guy that left is going to want to get back here. But at the end of the day, he and his family all agreed that this was a different situation than the one he left, and one that he wanted to be a part of.”
Since his departure, McDonald dropped 15 pounds and became a more complete cornerback. He said he was looking forward to the opportunity to get back in his old locker room and added he believed he was ready to contribute immediately.
“First and most importantly, I’m coming to be a team player,” he said. “I want to help and do whatever I can to contribute to the team. If they want me on special teams, kicking the ball off, whatever, I’ll do it. I want to give everything I have of myself to the Kansas football program.”
From McDonald’s slightly altered point of view, the program is much different than the one he left last December.
“I think if you look at the program now, just the way it’s run, the players are more focused and disciplined,” McDonald said. “I don’t think that you can go anywhere in college and talk to coaches that can say the things that they can say to you. The whole staff is just outstanding. I’m just happy, my family’s happy, and I’m ready to start school and start football. It feels like everything’s right, even more than last time. It’s home, basically. Once I left, I felt it was only right for me to come back. No other place felt like home for me.”