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A strong body, and now he has the head to match

Devon McDonald, an ex-NFL player, bounces back from immaturity to play with the Storm.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


Tim Marcum is laughing because he knows his warning comes too late. Devon McDonald's grip is on you, and it hurts.

"I should have told you," Marcum said, "not to shake the SOB's hand."

This is the way it has been for McDonald in two weeks as a Storm player. He hurts people. He doesn't mean to with his handshake, of course. That is merely a byproduct of a chiseled frame and gargantuan hands.

But on the field, to make contact with the 6-foot-4, 245-pound McDonald is to feel your body cry out.

"He's been told by some of the players to lay off a little bit during practice," Marcum said. "He's been knocking them around pretty good. They had to pull him aside and say, "Hey, man, we're all going to be around here a little while, so take it easy.' "

At least until game time, which comes tonight at 8 against Milwaukee.

Subbing for the injured fullback/linebacker Andre Bowden, McDonald returns to organized football for the first time since 1997, when he was with the Indianapolis Colts.

"I'm so ready," McDonald said, "I'm on fire."

He is ready, he says, to tackle something other than his own demons. In the three years since his last game, McDonald said he has found happiness and peace, things that his NFL salary and notoriety could never provide. He hopes to help others do the same.

Tinged with the slightest hints of a Jamaican accent, McDonald's smooth deep voice is one that Barry White and Lucianao Pavarotti would fight over. It is a voice that makes you listen, which he hopes the children he speaks to at various functions across the country do. As part of Sports World, McDonald and other athletes speak to children to warn against career-altering entrapments.

For McDonald, it was alcohol. A fourth-round draft pick of Indianapolis coming out of Notre Dame in 1993, McDonald proved to be a sucker for the money and celebrity that comes with playing in the NFL.

"I got caught up with hanging with the fellas," McDonald said. "There were late nights. I remember it was Week 8, and you could smell it (the alcohol) in the huddle (from the night before), and I was like who's stinking up the huddle? By Week 10, I was the dude stinking it up. From there it just escalated."

The long nights started taking their toll. He missed some meetings, and fell asleep in the ones he attended. He caroused all night and "you put all that in one box ... ," he said, his voice trailing off.

And you get an athlete losing his edge.

"You're getting $10,000-$15,000 a check; you don't know what to do with that," McDonald said. "These kids all think, oh, you got money you must be happy. Well, more money, more trouble.

"Thank God I wasn't a millionaire. I'd be dead."

McDonald, 32, was jolted awake in 1997 by his marriage to Shereasher, and in 1999 with the death of former Notre Dame linebacker teammate -- and ex-Buccaneer -- Demetrius Dubose.

By then, McDonald was out of the NFL after 63 games with the Colts and Arizona. But football was not out of his blood. Though he was away from the game he learned at age 11 after moving to the United States from Saint Mary, Jamaica, he continued to work out religiously and almost bought a fitness center.

Last summer, he was talked into attending a combine in his hometown of Indianapolis, and said he ran the 40 in 4.6 seconds. Ron Seleski, coach of the Louisville franchise in AF2 who was scouting for Marcum, let the Storm coach know McDonald still had skills, something Cardinal coach Dave McGinest confirmed.

After a few workouts, and his first full week of practice, McDonald was signed this weekand activated.

"My dream would be to go back to the NFL, but that's tough," said McDonald, who could not be signed for less than $500,000, making his dream more difficult. "But this is a chance for me to get grounded like I was in college."

As the sore bones of his teammates will attest, McDonald still is the same aggressive competitor he was at Notre Dame, where he helped win a national championship in 1989 and was Cotton Bowl co-MVP in 1993.

He's just smarter.

"Who knows where this will lead?" he said. "But I love hitting quarterbacks and I love playing football. It's good to be back."

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