Jets’ Robert Saleh Touts ‘Freakish’ NYJ Rookie: ‘Looks the Part’

Robert Saleh

Getty New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh during the 2022 regular season.

With all the hype and media attention that Aaron Rodgers and the 2022 draft class get on a weekly basis, the New York Jets 2023 rookies have flown way under the radar.

Namely, first-round pass rusher Will McDonald IV. “Will looks the part,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh told reporters on June 6. “I love his personality… He’s got tremendous length, his bend, just going through drills — I know there hasn’t been much O-line/D-line but, it’s freakish.”

The Jets HC went on, praising McDonald’s bendability and length once again, as well as his burst off the ball. Saleh did admit that like all rookies, the Iowa State product could still add more size and power to his game — before noting that he “loves where he’s at right now.”

“If [D-linemen] dress on gameday they’re going to play at least 20 [snaps],” Saleh concluded, “so he’ll be part of the rotation.”

Jets’ First Rounder Will McDonald’s Life Was a Movie

In case you missed it, NYJ beat reporter Zack Rosenblatt wrote a feature on McDonald’s journey to the NFL after he was drafted by the Jets in round one. No joke, this young man’s life was a movie, and I’m talking about the inspirational kind.

McDonald, ironically, worked a job at the famed fast-food chain that shares his last name.

He would leave work “at 3 or 4 a.m. after working the cash register, or the drive-thru window,” according to Rosenblatt. “He made minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, at a location near his school in Waukesha, Wisconsin. At the end of his shift, McDonald would retreat to his car, smelling like fries, stomach full of cheeseburgers, and he’d sleep a few hours before school.”

“McDonald, drafted in the first round by the Jets last week, looks back on that time fondly, even if it was difficult,” Rosenblatt continued. “His family was kicked out of its house in Waukesha, he said, and forced to move back to a rough neighborhood in Milwaukee, full of gun violence, but McDonald didn’t want to join them. So he stayed, and worked, and slept in his car so he could get to school early in the morning.”

He also had plans to join the Army, per Brian Costello of the New York Post, but this was all before McDonald ever stepped onto the gridiron — which is home to a sport that quickly changed his life forever.

Being Introduced to the Game of Football Changed Will McDonald’s Life Forever

Later in the feature with The Athletic, Rosenblatt detailed McDonald’s football journey, which didn’t begin as most do for the average pro athlete.

“Matt Harris was walking through Waukesha North High, a few weeks into the 2015 football season, when he spotted McDonald across the hallway,” he wrote. “From afar, in that crowd, McDonald looked like he might be 6-9, Harris thought… Harris was in the process of rebuilding a football program that had been through seven head coaches in 10 years, so he was ‘scrounging the halls’ as much as he could, he said, looking for football players.”

The high school coach told Rosenblatt that McDonald rejected him many times before he finally accepted the invitation to come to a practice after school.

“Finally, he relented and came out for his first practice, halfway through the season. Square one? McDonald didn’t even understand the point of the goal posts,” Rosenblatt joked. Eventually, Harris and his staff figured out that the ultra-athletic football newcomer was a natural pass rusher.

“I remember just looking at his D-line coach, thinking: Oh my gosh, what have we found here?” Harris told Rosenblatt. “He was unblockable.”

Rosenblatt went on, touching on several topics from McDonald’s ADHD to his unique talents and hobbies — I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of him jumping over cars by now? But the truly remarkable part of his story is the adversity he overcame to get here.

“Sometimes he’d stay in Harris’ basement, or at [offensive coordinator Dan] D’Amico’s house, before eventually settling in with a teammate’s family,” Rosenblatt informed after revealing that a police officer alerted the coaches that he had been sleeping in his car this whole time. “Harris would show him tape he had saved of Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor because ‘I always thought he had that type of edge.'”

McDonald later committed to Iowa State “on the spot” after they offered him a scholarship. Unfortunately, that high wasn’t the end of his adversity after he lost his brother during his sophomore year. “I think that year really shaped me, especially after my brother passed away,” the Jets rookie told Costello and the Post.

All in all, McDonald is a three-sport athlete, NFL first rounder and “always himself,” according to those that have coached and known him.

“The fact that I was able to get to this point and persevere through a lot of things — all the discipline I had to have to get here — I made sure I made all the right decisions to put myself in the best position,” McDonald told The Athletic. “I’m just real proud of myself for that.”

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