McDonald excels for Grangers
By kevin eckleberry
He was ready to roll, and try to lead his team to a second straight region championship.
John McDonald, a senior standout on the LaGrange High boys’ soccer team, injured his hamstring early in the season, and he was sidelined for a month as he looked to return to playing form.
McDonald was set to return to the field for a game in the middle of March when the Grangers got word that season was going to be suspended (and it was later canceled) because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The week I was supposed to come back, everything got canceled,” McDonald said. “That was kind of a blow for me.”
McDonald ended up playing in four games his senior season, and he had two goals, both in a season-opening victory over East Coweta.
Without McDonald, the Grangers went 4-2, and they closed the season with a 7-3 record.
McDonald became a major contributor to the team during his sophomore season when he got to play alongside his brother Liam McDonald on a team that went 13-5-1 and reached the second round of the state playoffs.
While Liam McDonald had a monster season and scored 24 goals in 19 games, John McDonald contributed with five goals and seven assists.
Liam McDonald returned to the team after not playing as a junior, allowing for a family reunion on the field.
“That was honestly the most fun, my sophomore year,” McDonald said. “As those seniors I grew up playing with, I got to play with them. And my brother came back, too. He played my sophomore year. That was just a dream come true for me. Every single game I was looking forward to it, every practice. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
As McDonald prepared for his junior season, he was asked to take on a much more prominent role by second-year head coach Shane Pulliam.
McDonald responded with a brilliant season with 15 goals and 22 assists as LaGrange went 14-4-2 and won the Region 5-AAAA championship and again made it to the second round of the state tournament.
In a memorable regular-season game at Callaway Stadium, McDonald had a goal as LaGrange beat Cartersville 5-4 on penalty kicks.
Had LaGrange lost to Cartersville, it would have finished second in the region.
“That is my favorite game I’ve ever played in,” McDonald said. “With all the emotions, it was just a roller-coaster. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been in.”
LaGrange beat Sandy Creek a few days later to finish 6-0 in the region.
McDonald either had a goal or an assist in nearly every game he played in during the 2019 season, which was one of the finest in the history of the program.
“I came in and was chosen to be captain, and I had to stand up,” McDonald said. “I tried to lead by example. I never thought it would turn out like that. It was just clicking that year.”
McDonald’s great work on the field was recognized when he was named the region’s player of the year.
“That was a breakout season,” McDonald said. “Every single game getting later in the season, I was getting assists or goals. It felt good to be able to provide for my team.”
McDonald, who has enrolled at the University of North Georgia, was disappointed to see his senior season cut short, but he was grateful for the time he had with his friends and teammates.
“Honestly, everyone got along so well, that it translated to the field,” McDonald said. “We’d hang out on and off the field, and I think that really helped us with our chemistry and our bonding.”