Kayden McDonald Motivated to Step Into A Bigger Role for Ohio State in 2024

By Andy Anders on May 14, 2024 at 8:35 am
Kayden McDonald

Kayden McDonald came to Columbus carrying an extra bundle of motivation in his backpack.

Somewhat overlooked by his home state Georgia Bulldogs despite earning defensive player of the year honors in talent-rich Gwinnett County and a four-star recruiting ranking, McDonald has been eager to live up to the mountainous potential of his 6-3, 328-pound frame.

“I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder,” McDonald said in March. “I don’t take any days for granted. You’ve gotta play every play like your last play, so that’s how I do it. I’m just really motivated. It’s a big season coming up, 17 games, somebody gotta step up. They’re leaning on the young guys like me, Jason (Moore), Hero (Kanu) and Tywone (Malone) to step up.”

With Ohio State advertising a need for depth similar to what McDonald indicated, perhaps the purest nose tackle on the Buckeyes’ roster is exiting spring ready for a year-two leap while trying to bolster the rotation behind starters Ty Hamilton and Tyleik Williams.

“He’s a nose guard and he’s powerful,” Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “We would like to see him continue to bring his weight down, but he’s a big man. He’s very strong and he can handle the center really well. And he gives the ideal nose guard. That’s what we’re looking for. That explosive guy, big guy in the middle.”

In tandem with the aim of shedding weight, McDonald’s top offseason focus physically has been his conditioning. Similar to Williams in his first couple of years at Ohio State, McDonald showed flashes in his brief stints as a freshman in 2023 but will need better cardio to sustain his burst at the line over a larger number of plays.

Across seven games as a true freshman, McDonald logged 35 snaps, batting down a pass and assisting on a tackle for loss. Most noteworthy may have been his appearance as a fullback in the Cotton Bowl against Missouri.

“(With) Coach Mick this offseason, it was just focusing on getting in shape and getting as strong as possible,” McDonald said. “I feel like I’m showing it.”

As a summer enrollee, McDonald didn’t get a full offseason of development before taking a collegiate field for the first time. He made some waves in practice by becoming the first summer enrollee from the Buckeyes' 2023 recruiting class to have his black stripe removed during fall camp, however.

“I feel like I’m learning the game more,” McDonald said. “I was just out of high school last year going into fall camp, so I had to adjust to it. But now I’m learning the game and knowing the assignments I’ve gotta do (on the field), and just doing my job. That’s what Coach Johnson is really big on.”

“He gives the ideal nose guard. That’s what we’re looking for. That explosive guy, big guy in the middle.”– Larry Johnson on Kayden McDonald

McDonald said he feels a sense of urgency to improve his craft this offseason with the knowledge that he’ll likely play a bigger role this season.

He likes his place in the defensive line rotation with how the front is drawn up around him. McDonald is more likely to make his mark on rushing downs than pass-rushing situations at this stage, something he happily embraces.

“I fit in well,” McDonald said. “I can make plays in the scheme. Stop the run, that’s the number one thing. That’s what I live by, stopping the run. It’s why I came here.”

Johnson feels confident in the depth of Ohio State’s defensive tackle group as a whole. Their spring game performances contained some flashes, with McDonald, Kanu and Moore each collecting two tackles. Both of McDonald’s were solo while Kanu and Moore added a sack apiece to their stat lines.

McDonald logged the most snaps of any defensive tackle in the spring game with 52, giving the Buckeyes the chance to get an extended look at the sophomore in game-like action.

“For the inside guys, I feel pretty good,” Johnson said. “Some guys are challenging for positions. Jason Moore is starting to make a push. You’ve got Hero Kanu inside and then you’ve got K-Mac. ... Right now, it’s really just pushing the young guys more than I’m pushing the older guys. We’re kind of shutting them down a little bit and letting these young guys get some work against the ones, twos so they get ready.”

For now, McDonald is focused on learning from the veterans in front of him and putting in the work necessary to earn more snaps.

“I’ve gotta prove it every day,” McDonald said. “You can’t have no bad days at Ohio State, so prepare to have a good day every day. I took different steps (this spring), being in the film room more, working on my craft. I think it’s been better for me.”

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