One of the most challenging things about North-South football week can be learning a new system in a short amount of time, but no matter what North/Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty throws at East Hardy quarterback Corey McDonald, it shouldn’t be too much for McDonald to handle.
After leading the Cougars to back-to-back Class A championship game appearances while heading up a unique, pass-happy offense, McDonald is back for one last prep game before heading off to Alderson-Broaddus, where he’ll continue his football career.
What people around the state may not realize is that McDonald was a running back in a wing-T offense in middle school and perhaps that experience helped him turn in two consecutive remarkable dual-threat seasons.
The final numbers were almost identical. As a junior in 2015, McDonald threw for 2,981 yards with 36 touchdowns and rushed for 1,160 yards and 12 more scores. Last year as a senior, McDonald racked up 2,965 passing yards with 38 touchdowns and added 1,065 yards and 17 scores on the ground.
“It took me probably two years to figure it out and obviously, we don’t have that type of time now,” McDonald said of picking up East Hardy coach Chad Williams’ system. “But running the spread in high school and then coming straight into this has helped me out a lot, honestly, because they run pistol and they try to run it a little bit more than we did but it’s still about the same offense and the same schemes.”
McDonald is joined by quarterbacks Will Billeter of St. Marys and Isaac Myers of Jefferson, with Daugherty having to figure out when to use which as Saturday night’s game progresses.
“That’s probably my toughest decision this week is getting those three guys in the game,” Daugherty said. “I talked to them today and said, ‘You all have to have a B position — what is it and let’s decide on that and then you’ve got to put your mind around playing those positions.’ I don’t necessarily like playing three quarterbacks, but when it’s an all-star game and all three had great seasons, they deserve it.”
Billeter and his St. Marys teammate, running back-receiver Braden Barnhart, are the first two guys McDonald listed as becoming close with this week despite the fact that the Blue Devils handed him his final and perhaps most-heartbreaking defeat in a 23-8 decision during the Class A finals in Wheeling in December.
“Honestly, it’s not that hard to become friends with about everyone here,” McDonald said. “We’re all after a common goal to beat the South.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot [of trash talking] but it’s a bunch of high school kids, so of course there’s going to be a little bit.”
While the trip to Wheeling led to two disappointing return trips (the Cougars fell 62-0 to Magnolia in 2015), both runs represented community rallying points for the small town of Baker, one aspect of his high school success that McDonald said he’d never forget.
“With that first trip to Wheeling, the whole town was included,” McDonald said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and this year, we still wanted to support the community, but we did it a lot more for ourselves this year.
“Walking around now, the community is still representing us and wishing us luck in college and stuff and that means a lot, knowing we’re not part of the system any more and we’re now alumni.”
When he thinks back on his high school career, it could be easy to feel a bit incomplete after those two aforementioned losses. But McDonald won’t define himself or his former team by two games when everything else during his final two years went without a hitch.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to play with some of the people I’ve played with and on the teams I’ve played with,” McDonald said. “To play in those two games, it’s something every kid has worked for since they first strapped on shoulder pads.”