Better Know a Buckeye: Kayden McDonald Brings College-Ready Size and Potential to Be A Difference-Making Nose Tackle to Ohio State

By Josh Poloha on June 1, 2023 at 10:10 am
Kayden McDonald

Better Know A Buckeye is our look at every member of Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class and how they became Buckeyes as they prepare to begin their OSU careers this fall.

One of two true defensive tackles in Ohio State's 2023 recruiting class, Kayden McDonald (ranked as the No. 35 defensive lineman and No. 260 overall prospect in the cycle) is one of two players from Georgia in the Buckeyes' 2023 class (along with tight end Jelani Thurman) and the second player in three years from North Gwinnett High School to become a Buckeye, joining former high school teammate and current OSU cornerback Jordan Hancock.

Kayden McDonald

  • Size: 6-3/310
  • Position: DT
  • School: North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Georgia)
  • 247 Composite: ★★★★
  • Composite Rank: #35 DL
  • Overall Rank: #260

How He Became A Buckeye

Ohio State began recruiting McDonald in September 2021, but his recruitment slowed down for a few months following his first visit to Columbus on Oct. 30, 2021 after Ohio State overhauled its defensive coaching staff. Then, when new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles made him a priority, McDonald took the Buckeyes much more seriously, not only because of the new-look defense but thanks to the new defensive staff along with returning defensive line coach Larry Johnson.

“It’s a different vibe with coach Knowles being the defensive coordinator,” McDonald told Eleven Warriors. “The defense looks faster. They’re playing more together and relentless. It’s a relentless defense and a national championship-type defense.

“The staff made it very clear that Columbus is home for me.”

Following an official visit to Columbus for the Wisconsin game last season, McDonald knew he wanted to become a Buckeye.

“I think Buckeye Nation is amazing,” he said prior to his commitment regarding what the most appealing thing about playing for Ohio State would be. “The fans, the tradition there, really, just Buckeye Nation is great.”

When McDonald committed to the Buckeyes on Oct. 31, 2022, it snapped a two-and-a-half-month commitment drought for Ohio State and gave them a second defensive tackle in the 2023 class along with Will Smith Jr.

“Why not OSU?” McDonald told Eleven Warriors in November about why he committed to the Buckeyes. “I picked OSU because of the academics, culture, opportunity to play and compete with the best, my relationship with coach Johnson and coach Day, plus the city of Columbus and the chance to win a national championship.”

McDonald based his college decision on three prerequisites: Academics, the ability to play early and the potential to win a national championship. While the gridiron will help him achieve the latter two, he also chose Ohio State because of his desire to become a sports broadcaster and the pipeline of former Buckeyes who are now prominent analysts.

“Kirk Herbstreit went there, and his son is on the team now,” McDonald said. “That just could open so many doors for me if I pick Ohio State with my major.” 

High School Years

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound nose tackle was a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen throughout his time at North Gwinnett. As a sophomore, he racked up 56 tackles (29 for loss) and 12 sacks. His junior season was even more impressive, as McDonald totaled 95 tackles (62 for loss), 20 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and three pass deflections. As a senior, the defensive tackle had 68 tackles (40 for loss), 13 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and a pass deflection.

“I can disrupt every play, stuff the run and clog up the middle and get to the quarterback up the middle and close the pocket,” McDonald said of the skill set he’ll bring.

In November 2021, McDonald had seven (7!) sacks in a single game, a road playoff game.

Along with his defensive dominance, McDonald was used in a William “Refrigerator” Perry-style package throughout his time at North Gwinnett. As a goal-line back, McDonald ran for 176 yards on 35 carries with six touchdowns as a senior. Maybe – just maybe – McDonald can be a candidate to take over for Mitch Rossi as a fullback at times, at least on the goal line.

“After my first touchdown, coach Day called and jokingly said he calls the plays, and if I come to Ohio State, he’ll let me tote the rock on a goal line package,” McDonald said. 

Immediate Impact

McDonald has the college-ready body to get on the field immediately. That said, the four-star prospect has plenty of competition ahead of him on the defensive tackle depth chart entering his freshman season, led by a projected two-deep of Mike Hall Jr., Tyleik Williams, Ty Hamilton and Tywone Malone.

Continuing to maximize his physical tools under Mickey Marotti’s guidance while developing his on-field skill set with Johnson’s tutelage will be his priorities for year one, while he should get at least a few snaps as a freshman, even if they only come when games are already out of hand.

“I see him as a nose guard,” Johnson said of McDonald when talking to the media on Tuesday. “320 (pounds) would probably (be good for him) because the game is much faster. ... He plays well with his body. He's got long arms ... a lot of the weight is in his upper body.”

Long-Term Impact

Capable of being a difference-maker as both a pass-rusher and a run stuffer, McDonald should compete for a spot on the two-deep at nose tackle as a sophomore, especially if Hall and/or Williams forgo their senior years and declare for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Hero Kanu and fellow 2023 freshman Will Smith Jr. will also be among those looking to climb the depth chart between this year and next year, so McDonald will have competition, but he has plenty of upside to make an impact at Ohio State sooner than later.

Player Comparison: Johnathan Hankins

Hankins was a standout nose tackle for Ohio State from 2010-12, recording 138 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and five sacks over three seasons. After three years in Columbus, Hankins is entering his 11th NFL season. The defensive tackle re-signed with the Cowboys earlier this offseason, which is the fourth team in his career.

Hankins used his frame and weight to push around opposing interior offensive linemen time and time again while he also brought plenty of quickness to the Buckeyes’ defensive line. McDonald has the traits to make a similar impact in Columbus.

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