INDIANAPOLIS – T.J. McDonald was a three-year starting safety at USC who, like his father, Tim, became an All-American.
McDonald is hoping to take the next step to the NFL, a league where his father starred for 13 seasons. The younger McDonald says he has been trained for what lies ahead.
"My dad was my head coach in high school. He's been preparing me for this for a long time," said McDonald. "He wasn't preparing me to be a high school player or a college player, he was trying to teach me how to be a pro from a young age.
"The relationship I have with him has pushed me to the point where I am now. I know I have a responsibility to him…not to just step my foot in this league but to be able to go for a career."
The elder McDonald was a six-time Pro Bowler and a consensus All-American with the Trojans, and T.J. said the tips he has learned have prepared him.
"Just to be relentless at all times," said McDonald of his father's advice. "You want to be relentless and don't let people stop you from getting to the ball. He always tells you there are only two kinds of football players – those who have been beaten and those who are going to get beat. It's not about if you're going to get beat or not, it's how you're going to respond."
McDonald's combine results included a 4.59 40-yard time (11th), 19 bench presses (T5th) and a 40-inch vertical leap (3rd). He was durable at USC, starting 36-of-50 games and never fewer than 11 in any of his last three seasons.
Playing safety for the Trojans meant an exposure to long-time NFL coach Monte Kiffin, something McDonald feels was a benefit.
"I loved playing for Monte Kiffin. Monte was awesome to me," said McDonald. "For him to be able to help…for the knowledge that he had for the length he coached in the game in the NFL, for him to be able to name drop some of the guys that he coached, it was awesome to soak that up and be able to learn from him and be able to play under him."
McDonald feels he is the top safety in the draft and says he can draw on his ability to play either role in the secondary.
"I played free safety and strong safety. I was a free safety in college," said McDonald. "I played in the box a lot, played cover-two, played in the deep middle. I feel I can play both. I want to show my range, speed and athleticism. It depends on whatever my coaches want me to play. I'll play whatever. Being a physical guy, I like to have my nose around the ball a little more, closer to the line of scrimmage."
Bloodlines not always can determine a career, but McDonald's exposure to his father as a player at Edison High School in Fresno (Calif.) helped. McDonald said Tim was a tough coach who worked him hard, but that the instruction prepared him to compete in college.
McDonald pulled tapes of his dad as a further means to learn his father's history while preparing to feather his own.
"I've watched some film of him. The game has changed a little bit," said McDonald. "I definitely watched film of how he used to play, how physical he was. It gets me excited to know not only do I have someone who has done it, but someone who has done it at the highest level.
"The best thing I could say (about his dad as a player), 'Stay out of the way.' He was a very physical player, somebody who was a leader. He was very impactful on the defense, made his presence felt at all times. He was always around the ball. That was something I noticed. He was around the ball."