Pac-12 Week of our 49 in 49 pre-draft series wraps up with a look at the son of a former 49ers enforcer in the secondary.
If T.J. McDonald is anything like his father, the 49ers might want to consider picking him in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The big, physical safety from USC (6-foot-2, 219 pounds) has a 49ers pedigree. His dad, Tim McDonald, spent seven of his 13 seasons in San Francisco, earning six Pro Bowl invites as a hard-hitting safety.
Once the younger McDonald reached high school, something changed. He started calling his father ‘Coach’ instead of ‘Dad.’ Now on the verge of realizing his dream of reaching the NFL, McDonald is grateful for his father’s tough love on the football field.
“He’s been preparing me for this for a long time,” McDonald said. “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, to myself, to my family to be able to go for it all, not to just step my foot in this league but to be able to go for a career.”
If there’s one thing that’s been evidently passed down from father to son, it’s their shared aggressive playing style. A look on YouTube will reveal McDonald laying big hits just like his father did. Even though the elder McDonald played in an age before YouTube, his son has enjoyed watching their similar approach to the game on film.
“Stay out of the way. That would be the best thing I could say,” McDonald said. “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.”
And what’s the main mantra he’s learned from his father?
“Just to be relentless at all times,” Tim Jr. said. “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.”
When it comes to role models, it would be tough to find a better one for McDonald.
Tim Sr. joined the 49ers in 1993 and stayed with the team until he retired in 1999, only missing one regular season game in the process. He racked up 20 interceptions, four touchdowns, nine fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, three Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl ring. Not to mention he was also recently signed by the New York Jets to be the team’s defensive backs coach.
“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,” McDonald said.
As for his own career, T.J doesn’t hold back when setting his expectations for the NFL.
“I would say I’m a physical safety who is smart, watches a lot of film, is a leader, he loves the game of football,” McDonald said. “That’s one thing, I love this game. I was born into this game. You can interview all the guys at the combine, but nobody wants it more than I do.”
During his season year campaign, McDonald totaled a career-high 112 tackles before running a 4.59-second, 40-yard dash and posting an impressive 40-inch vertical leap at the NFL Combine. He also benefitted from the tutorship of longtime NFL defensive coach Monte Kiffin, who used McDonald in a variety of roles in their three seasons together.
Whether it’s at free safety or strong safety, McDonald doesn’t care.
“I want to be able to show my range, be able to show my speed and athleticism,” he said. “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. I can play either one.”