McDonald continues to grow up a Trojan

LOS ANGELES — He’s one half of USC’s “7s Up” duo, along with quarterback Matt Barkley. T.J. McDonald had a decision to make. Like his much heralded teammate and roommate last December, McDonald chose to return to school instead of entering the NFL Draft.

As the leader of the Trojans’ defense, the USC two-time captain is living a dream.

For the son of six-time All Pro and former Trojan, Tim McDonald, USC is neatly inserted into his earliest memories. By all accounts, he grew up a Trojan, twice.

There was T.J. attending countless USC games with his family as a child. And then there was T.J., who just wrapped up his freshman season, when USC was hit with severe sanctions by the NCAA, including a two-year bowl ban.

He watched as plenty of his teammates bolted. He stuck around.

Now, in their first season post the bowl ban, the Trojans are the AP’s No.1 team in the nation and as McDonald puts it, there’s no roof over their heads.

The Trojans will enter their season opener against Hawaii on Saturday at 4:30pm on FOX as a national title favorite.

He returned for his senior season not wanting the Emerald Bowl to be the extent of his bowling experience. He has aspirations for bigger and better things and is taking large steps to do so.

“T.J. McDonald’s had a really good camp,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “I think he’s really taken his game to another level. I think he’s going to have an All-American type year.”

McDonald has added 10 pounds to his listed 205-pound frame. He’s taken an even larger role in helping the newcomers, most notably Josh Shaw, a transfer from Florida. 

“(I’ve) been putting a lot of effort into teaching the guys,” McDonald said. “I think that’s the best way to learn is to teach. All the young guys have been coming to me with questions and I’ve been able to explain that to them. It’s made me a much better player.”

He’s revered by his teammates for his leadership and work ethic.

“When I came here, I used to always just look at him because he reminded me of (former USC safety) Taylor Mays and he just had the ‘Create-a-Player’ body,” said linebacker Hayes Pullard. “I was probably like 5’11” at the time, 205 (pounds). He looked like he was 6’6″, 270 (pounds).

“I was like ‘he’s always working hard he’s not even saying nothing.’ The coaches always mentioned his name and I always wanted to be that guy.”

For “that guy,” who’s been a USC fan his whole life and speaks fondly of the first sweatsuit he ever received as a child which had a USC logo on it, Saturday’s walk out of the tunnel at the Coliseum will be his last in a season opener. He realizes these are his last days wearing the Cardinal and Gold uniform.

“It’s my last chance,” McDonald said. “I don’t get no chances after this. So, for me, it’s just I got to make sure that I come out here every day with a purpose.”