Orrville alum McDonald helps Iowa State to Fiesta Bowl

Orrville alum McDonald helps Iowa State to Fiesta Bowl
Iowa State University

Orrville High graduate D.K. McDonald has worked his way up the college football coaching ranks from Div. II to his current position as safeties coach at Iowa State, which will cap one of the best seasons in school history with a Fiesta Bowl appearance against Oregon.


D.K. McDonald will bring some of the Orrville Red Riders’ tradition to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona on Jan. 2.

McDonald, a 1997 Orrville graduate, is an assistant coach for No. 10 Iowa State (8-3), which will play No. 25 Oregon (4-2) in one of the nation’s top bowl games.

Iowa State is having one of its best seasons in program history.

The Cyclones will play in their first New Year’s Six bowl game. They rose to as high as No. 6 in the college football playoff rankings, the best in school history, before falling to Oklahoma, 27-21, in the Big 12 championship game.

McDonald coaches the safeties on head coach Matt Campbell’s staff and can trace some of his methods back to lessons learned at Orrville. His head coaches were Bill McMillan in football, Steve Smith in basketball and Mike Burkholder in track.

“At Orrville you had to live up to certain standards if you wanted to play,” McDonald said. “At Iowa State there’s a standard you need to play at if you want to get onto the field. I learned at Orrville that coaches can be very tough and demanding, but they can also really care about you. Obviously, winning is very important at the college level, and we can be hard on players, but at the end of the day, I make sure they know we love them.”

McDonald earned three letters apiece in football and basketball at Orrville and also participated in track and baseball. He was a member of Orrville’s back-to-back state championship basketball teams (1994-95, 1995-96) and also helped two playoff football teams including a 1994 state runner-up squad.

“At Orrville we got to experience playing against great competition, and I really developed a love for winning,” said McDonald, who played defensive back, wide receiver and running back at OHS and went on to become a four-year starter at cornerback for Div. II Edinboro. “Just being a part of such great teams and having a community that showed us great support was very special.

“I wasn’t the greatest athlete. I had to scratch and claw to play with guys like Marcell Denson, Renauld Ray, Cedric Simpson, Tommy Reusser and more at Orrville. But I learned that you can outwork people and do things they weren’t willing to do and get ahead of them. Those are lessons I took with me to Edinboro and try to pass on to my players to this day.”

The Iowa State football team is a great example of exceeding expectations.

When Campbell left a successful four-year run at Toledo and brought McDonald with him from that staff to Ames, Iowa, many in the college football coaching circle shook their heads in disbelief.

“Some people were saying that we’d end up in the unemployment line,” McDonald said. “Iowa State only won a couple games a season in each of the three years before we got there, and people said it was a dead-end job. We’re doing things this season that have never been done at Iowa State.”

Iowa State is one victory away from tying the school record for most wins in a season, accomplished in 1900 and 2000.

Iowa State’s turnaround all starts with Campbell. McDonald said he feels “blessed” to be a part of the Cyclones’ coaching staff.

“Matt Campbell brought in the right assistant coaches, and we recruit the right kind of players,” McDonald said. “(Campbell) really cares about your family when you work for him. He also really genuinely cares about the kids who play for him, which can be hard to come by in this profession.”

Campbell, a graduate of Massillon Perry and Mount Union, compiled a 35-15 record at Toledo after being promoted from assistant coach.

McDonald coached defensive backs at Toledo from 2012-15. Prior to that, he was an assistant at William & Mary (2011), Indiana University of Pennsylvania (2006-10) and Edinboro (2003-05).

Iowa State plays three safeties in its defensive alignment, and McDonald is responsible for coaching them, as well as helping out with the overall defensive scheme and special teams.

The son of Darrell and Alicia McDonald still visits his parents in Orrville when he can. His grandma lives in Wooster and recently celebrated her 93rd birthday.

D.K. McDonald and his wife, Kayla, have two young daughters.

“To get to coach college football in my 18th season and be able to experience success at this level, I attribute it to two things: the grace of God and growing up in Orrville,” McDonald said.

Retired Orrville football coach McMillan had fond memories of not only McDonald, but also his entire family.

“D.K.’s older brother, Andre Johnson, was a good athlete, and D.K. followed in his footsteps,” McMillan said. “They were both really good kids. His parents, Darrell and Alicia, were always there to support their kids and raised them the right way. They’re as good a family as you’re going to find. I’ve followed D.K.’s career, and I’m really happy for him. He’s really paid his dues, and his hard work has paid off. Orrville should be very proud of D.K.”

McDonald was always proud of his father, who was a longtime freshman coach and varsity assistant in the Orrville program.

“Seeing the impact my dad had on people really stuck with me when I was younger,” McDonald said. “He’d have guys come up to him in their 30s, 40s or even 50s and still call him ‘coach.’ I thought that was really neat. I knew that was the kind of impact I wanted to have on kids.”

McDonald has certainly left his own legacy, working up from the Div. II ranks to a New Year’s Six bowl game. He can’t wait to see what the future holds. “It’s been quite a ride, and I’m just really proud of all the guys and the way they’ve bought in,” he said. “I feel like we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do at Iowa State.”

Aaron Dorksen can be emailed at aarondorksen24@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronDorksen.

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