RIDGELAND — Zy McDonald felt nervous.
He was sitting in a director’s chair inside WAPT’s studio last week for an on-camera interview. Ridgeland head coach Ryan Earnest sat to his right. McDonald, Earnest’s sophomore quarterback, had never been interviewed before, much less on camera. Growing up he and his cousin and his brother interviewed each other after backyard football games, but that was imaginary.
A quiet and reserved person who doesn’t seek the spotlight — coaches strain to hear him say “hello” in the school hallways — McDonald called his uncle, Deuce McAllister, for advice the day before. McAllister, who played at Ole Miss before an eight-year NFL career with the Saints, told his nephew to speak up, make eye contact with the interviewer, look at the camera and answer questions about himself by discussing his teammates.
McDonald looked uncomfortable but he answered all the questions directed at him. And should McDonald meet the goals he has for himself — a state championship, a label as the best player in Mississippi, a Hall of Fame NFL career — the interview will be the first of many.
“It’s just going to be a matter of time before he takes off,” Earnest said.
“He’s got a shot,” McAllister said.
This summer, McDonald has added about 10 pounds and attended a camp at Ole Miss. McAllister also sent him to Mobile, Alabama, to work with former Ole Miss quarterback David Morris at QB Country. This time last year McDonald spent his days practicing with the freshman team as he prepared for his first high school season.
At about 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, McDonald had no expectations of playing on the varsity team. But Dillon Mitchell, Ridgeland’s projected starter, strained the UCL in his right elbow four weeks before the first game. Earnest told McDonald to come to varsity workouts and gave him a folder filled with exercise instructions.
“As fall camp starts to play out it’s clear to everybody he’s by far the best guy,” Earnest said. “Even with that, I was hesitant. You don’t want to ruin his confidence. Playing 5A football for a ninth grader can be quite intimidating.”
On the field before an early August exhibition against Warren Central, Earnest and offensive coordinator Josh Crowder needed to decide if McDonald or senior Zion Smith would start at quarterback. They flipped a coin. McDonald won the toss. In one quarter, McDonald led the Titans to two touchdowns.
“At that point, we decided let’s go with him,” Earnest said. “We haven’t looked back.”