When Rontez Miles finished an outstanding football career at California University last season, head coach Mike Kellar wondered how he could fill the huge hole left in the Vulcans’ defense at free safety.
The answer came in an series of seemingly unrelated events: then Cal defensive coordinator Mike Conway had to be hired as head coach at North Park University in Chicago, Dewey McDonald had to break his elbow in fall camp at Fairmont State and Mike Lopez had to get fired as head football coach at Fairmont State in December.
Well, here’s why that benefited Cal.
Conway’s departure left an opening at defensive coordinator for Cal, and Lopez was a friend of Kellar who closely worked with the defense at Fairmont. So the Cal coach offered Lopez the defensive coordinator’s position. McDonald, one of Fairmont State’s best defensive players who also happened to be a free safety, didn’t want to go through his final season with a coach he didn’t know and a system that would be brand new.
So the 6-1, 205-pound McDonald decided to follow Lopez to California.
And he will be the starting safety Saturday when the Vulcans travel to Hillsdale for the season-opener.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“(After hiring Lopez), I came into my office, and there was a transfer release laying on my desk from Fairmont State,” Kellar said. “I believe Dewey went upstairs and asked them for a release for us and Shepherd because Shepherd is his hometown team. He knew Coach Lopez, and we were going to be one of the better teams in the East. He was out of work for about one day before we gave him a job.”
McDonald said it was an easy decision to leave Fairmont State. The decision was whether to attend West Virginia University and not play football, follow Lopez to Cal or play for his hometown team at Shepherd, a member of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I only had one season left to accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish,” McDonald said. “I didn’t want to go back home with all the distractions of being a hometown kid. I felt if I was going to make the move, I wanted to increase my stock and chances. I knew they had a rich history and Rontez was a key figure in me coming to the school for what he accomplished here. That was a major plus.”
Miles was arguably the best defensive back to play at California. An All-American who had 75 tackles and a team-high four interceptions last season, Miles signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets in April.
“I don’t think you can replace a great player like Rontez, but I was having a great career at Fairmont,” said McDonald. “I don’t look at it as filling Rontez’s shoes. I have my own shoes at Fairmont. I’ll be adding my shoes to this program.”
McDonald has earned three degrees at Fairmont State – one in business management, sports management and marketing – and he is working on his masters degree in business management. He is the first in his family to earn a college degree, and he wants to be the first in his family to play in the National Football League.
“We didn’t find out until exam weeks that (Coach Lopez) was fired,” he said. “With me as a senior, I didn’t feel I had time for a transition year for a new program. That was my main reason for leaving. I felt coming to Cal was a better avenue to enhance my chances of playing pro ball.”
That would not had happened had he stayed healthy in camp last year. The broken elbow produced a red-shirt season, leaving him one final year of eligibility.
“I could have played the last four or five games,” said McDonald. “Talking to my family and knowing what the scouts were saying to the coaching staff, I felt it would have been a better spot for me to sit out, learn more about the game and come back and have a dominant senior year.”
McDonald, who runs a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, know exactly what a dominant senior year would entail.
“Winning PSAC title,” he said. “That’s what it would be.”
The journey begins Saturday.