Jonathan McDonald isn’t your typical Stark County athlete; he is much more than that. He was a dual-sport star, participating in both soccer and rugby. He earned All-Stark County and Second Team All-District honors in soccer at Lake HS, breaking the school’s single season shutout record as a dominant goalkeeper.
He also was a captain and MVP with the Canton Maddogs HS rugby team.
The unique experience led McDonald to playing college rugby with Notre Dame College, a program that went from upstart to a nationally ranked program in a span of a few years.
“To see where we’ve gone in just three years, the grit, leadership, and effort, is amazing,” McDonald commented.
Today NDC is a real powerhouse with numbers to back up the program, including three squads and 50+ players at different levels (varsity, JV, and developmental).
Rugby wasn’t actually McDonald’s first choice, having played soccer for over 15 years. He was actually considering a number of scholarship offers at major soccer programs. That was until an ankle injury caused him to lose those very same offers, leaving him to choose between a few DII and DIII schools for soccer or take a look at rugby again.
“Jon is perhaps the most coachable, fundamentally-sound player I ever worked with,” Canton Area High School Head Coach Chad Menegay added. “Over his three years at Canton High School Rugby, he developed from zero rugby skills to earning a Northern Ohio select-side position and one of the few rugby scholarships in the country. He is known as a high character guy. He is fun to work with and passionate about the sport. Young players are lucky to have him as a mentor and coach.”
In a decision that he would describe as a “stroke of luck,” McDonald headed north to South Euclid to play for the Falcons and the rest is history.
“Jon has always been a hard worker and a team leader even though his knee injuries have kept him sidelined the past couple of seasons,” Notre Dame College men’s rugby head coach Jason Fox continued. “He always stayed positive and was always helping the coaching staff and others during his rehab. We are excited to see a healthy Jon playing this fall.”
As you can see McDonald has been a big part of NDC’s success and he has even bigger dreams on the horizon.
First on his list is a return to Stark County to coach at the club and college level. He’s already coaching with the Maddogs, but would like to start a college program from scratch right here in Stark County.
McDonald sees a sport on the rise with the Maddogs HS program continuing to grow along with Perry HS starting one of their own. He thinks that rugby is where lacrosse was five or six years ago.
While he thinks it may be a little time for rugby to become a major sport thanks to the county’s football traditions and history, he sees great value and potential in rugby at every level.
Locally it could be beneficial to the area’s existing football players, especially considering it is played in opposite seasons. It also helps in the areas of teamwork, running the ball, tackling, and field vision. McDonald thinks that rugby will be in every major high school in five years.
It doesn’t hurt that Carlin Isles, the world’s fastest rugby player, is from the area. McDonald recalls seeing Isles at a middle school tournament and that Isles awarded trophies to the players.
“It’s super cool to have him be from the area,” McDonald added. “He’s had a big impact in youth development.”
Nationally he envisions a pro league with 16-20 teams in major markets in four or five years.
Simply put, rugby seems to be the next big thing and McDonald is on the frontline of playing and coaching. He’s sure to have an increasing impact on rugby in Northeast Ohio.