Andre McDonald was one of the nation’s most sought-after receivers coming out of Hopkins High School in 2012. Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, Vanderbilt and Minnesota all courted the four-star recruit.
He ultimately opted for the Gophers but left the program last fall after being suspended multiple times.
Now, McDonald plans to enroll at Division III University of Wisconsin-River Falls to play football and basketball, he told the Minnesota Daily on Jan. 14.
“It’s really difficult to come to grips with,” McDonald said, “but I put myself in that situation, and I have to get myself out of it.”
McDonald first committed to Vanderbilt during his initial recruiting process. But after then-wide receivers coach Chris Beatty left Vanderbilt for a job at Illinois, McDonald, a Minnetonka, Minn., native, reopened his recruitment.
Minnesota was the natural choice.
“Coach [Jerry] Kill always gave me a good feeling about what he was doing with the program,” McDonald said. “It was the easiest decision when my coach left Vanderbilt.”
McDonald played in eight games his freshman year but was suspended from the 2012 bowl game against Texas Tech for violating team rules.
“I was smoking marijuana,” he said. “It was always drug-related.”
McDonald didn’t enroll in classes that spring and instead went to rehab.
His first stint was at Hazelden in Center City, Minn. After that, he enrolled at MN Adult & Teen Challenge in Minneapolis.
But even with his treatment, McDonald couldn’t overcome his substance abuse problems. He rejoined the Gophers in the 2013 offseason, but was dismissed from fall camp in August.
“I got suspended, and that was it,” McDonald said. “I wasn’t really at a point where I was talking to anybody.
“I was kind of secluded and on my own.”
A helping hand
For McDonald, all it took was a text.
In fall 2013, River Falls linebacker Cory Clark sent a text to McDonald, his friend of nearly three years, asking how he was doing.
McDonald’s response changed everything.
“He told me that he wouldn’t mind transferring to River Falls,” Clark said. “I asked him, ‘Why would you want to leave a D-I program for a D-III program?’”
“He said he felt like it was time for a change of some sort.”
Clark advised McDonald to sort things out with the Gophers before speaking with River Falls coaches, in order to avoid any NCAA violations.
“I told the [Gophers] at one point I didn’t think I was going to be coming back, and then they wanted me to wait,” McDonald said. “It just got to the point where it had to happen.”
McDonald needed a change of scenery.
After leaving Minnesota’s football program he left the state, too.
“Something different,” he said. “Just to get away.”
McDonald went to Miami to live with a close friend. He worked at a Macy’s and spent time thinking about where his life was headed.
Clark said he periodically checked in with McDonald to see how he was enjoying his time away from Minnesota.
“I think getting away from Minneapolis a little bit will probably help him in the long run,” Clark said. “Just a change of scenery.
“If there are any blockheads around, they won’t be accessible to him.”
River Falls quarterback Ryan Kusilek first heard early in fall 2013 that McDonald might be transferring.
He said his initial reaction was, “No way.”
Now, the transfer appears to be official.
Kusilek could soon be tossing passes to McDonald, who once had the potential to become an All-American receiver at the Division-I level.
“He brings a whole other dimension to our offense,” Kusilek said. “Being so talented, playing in the Big Ten. That’s just unbelievable.”
Clark, who’s taken McDonald under his wing and helped him turn things around, played a pivotal role in the potential move to River Falls.
“Nobody’s ever perfect, but I do believe he’s making some better decisions,” Clark said. “ … I think just being in his corner will be helpful for him.
“I’m not sure he’s ever had that.”
McDonald’s impact on the field and hardwood can’t be overstated.
The NFL isn’t out of the question, he said, but he also has a more realistic back-up plan.
“If another level comes, it does. If it doesn’t, that’s what my degree is going to be for,” he said. “I’m going to get my teaching degree.”
It’s not hard for Clark to imagine McDonald working with kids in a positive way.
In his free time, McDonald has helped coach a youth basketball team.
“He’s very gentle, he’s very kind, I can honestly see him becoming a good teacher,” Clark said. “Someone that’s actually going to care about a student’s future.”
McDonald wants to teach elementary school and be a role model for students.
“It’ll definitely play into my career once I do [teach],” he said. “Use what happened to me as an example.”