Talk with your pads, play with your heart

Jayy McDonald tackles football and fatherhood

John “Jayy” McDonald Jr. is a college graduate with a degree in Social Science, a Bachelor’s in Communications and is currently working on acquiring a Master’s degree in Children and Family Studies. All of these accomplishments were achieved while also taking on the challenge of being a full time student athlete as well as a father to his son, Nehemia. 

McDonald was born in Oakland, California and remained there until the age of seven. He then moved to Dallas, Texas, then to Pittsburgh, Texas for seven years. At the age of 15, he moved back to California where he graduated from Lincoln High School in Stockton, California. While moving around at a young age can take a toll on anyone, McDonald didn’t let it slow him down or hold him back. 

After graduating high school in 2015, McDonald began his college career as an athlete at Merritt Junior College.While running track for MJC, he was approached by Coach John Beam from Laney College, a college located back in Oakland, California where it all began. Coach Beam heard about McDonald’s speed and asked him to come play running back for the Eagles. 

“Come to find out, I really wasn’t good,’’ McDonald stated. 

Although John wasn’t a fit in the offense that season, he was moved to special teams where he played kick return and PAT block. Special teams turned out to be Jayy’s specialty, he became one of the best in the state of California. Eventually, he made his way to Beam’s offensive team which gained him attention from several colleges. 

After his time at Laney College, he decided to run track again, but this time for a D1 college in Missouri. After his season in Missouri, hard times struck and he found himself back in California living with a friend and working as a bouncer and bus boy. A conversation with this friend ended in McDonald deciding he wanted to give football another shot. McDonald texted his former coach from Laney College three words, “Coach, John McDonald,” and the next morning Coach Beam called McDonald and offered him the running back position on the team before Jayy could even say “hello.” 

This conversation is what brought him back to the field in 2018. From there, John became a National Champion and was offered a full ride to Middle Tennessee State University, then a full ride to Tarleton State University where he finished out his career as a collegiate athlete.

When asked who motivates him to work harder, McDonald replied, ‘’my brothers, not biological, but those who really understand me.’’ 

The first person John wanted to credit for keeping him going was Anthony “AJ” Williams. AJ and Jayy met when McDonald was 15 when his biological family turned their backs on him. 

Another person Jayy wanted to acknowledge was Kristofer (Kris) Larkins. During a lot of John’s worst days, Kris was by his side, experiencing things with him. 

“He made sure no matter what he had going on, I was welcome with him. He always wanted me to have a place to go,’’ McDonald said. 

Growing up, McDonald was surrounded by football. His family’s love for football grew into his love of watching the sport as well. Whether it was watching games on TV, playing football related video games or even highlights for players on YouTube, McDonald had found joy in observing the game. 

As someone who refrained from playing the sport for so long, this gave McDonald an interesting perspective. While he has experienced the joy in being a spectator and the excitement that comes from watching your team win, he also eventually learned the struggles that come from the other side of football, playing the sport. When you are watching football, you only see four quarters. We don’t see all the early morning weight sessions, two-a-day practices, film sessions, and all the other hours put in. 

 “I understand what it’s like to break your body everyday to pave the way for the ones under you and to create change for the ones with you. So to me, it’s bigger than football, it’s through football,’’ McDonald explained. 

For many athletes there are events that shape and motivate them to become who they want to be. For Jayy McDonald, his event was the realization that he has the power to help break the stereotype against black male athletes. 

John is a first generation college graduate as well as high school graduate. He prides himself in his educational achievements as well as how he can take what he has learned as an athlete and use it to help others who are in the same place he was as a child. 

“It makes me feel good to know that trying to be the best athlete I can be in all aspects can inspire so many lives. I’m doing this so I can go back and help kids in my community that look like me and go through similar struggles,’’ McDonalds said. 

Jayy has shown that while he is an athlete, a student, and a father to his son, he is more than just those titles. He is a motivator, a hard worker, an encourager, and someone who is dedicated to making a difference for the Black community. 

John’s life experiences have left him with a lot of wisdom, drive and passion for what he does and those around him.

“You’ve got to love the process more than you love the results. Understand that and live by it and you will be fine with whatever you face,’’ McDonald said. 

McDonald is a great example of where hard work, dedication, persistence and drive will lead you. 

“Black excellence is not a meaning to me, it’s an everyday mentality. I am a black man trying to turn my dreams into reality despite whatever challenges I may face. I am a college graduate and I am working on getting my Master’s degree, maintaining a 3.0 GPA or higher. All of this was taken care of through full ride scholarships. Being able to help, create positive change and be successful the right way is all I’m trying to do,’’ McDonald stated.