The week before LSU's senior night in Tiger Stadium last season, there was another important game taking place in Georgia. Marietta High School and Milton High School were were in an epic playoff battle, eventually won by Arik Gilbert, BJ Ojulari and Marietta.
On the other sideline was 2022 athlete Jordan McDonald, a running back whose recruitment was just starting to pick up steam. McDonald had a scheduled visit to Baton Rouge for the Texas A&M game the following week and told Ojulari about it in passing after the game.
Ojulari, an LSU commit by that time, was also planning to make the trip and the two were able to communicate a ton about the LSU program.
"He was saying that LSU felt like family, it could truly be a home away from home for him," McDonald said. "He said the coaches were genuine and that he really just loved the staff, loved the campus and how welcoming the fans were."
McDonald is in a great position from other top recruits, even in the 2021 class. He was able to take a visit for that 50-7 blowout of the Aggies that punched LSU's ticket to the SEC Championship game.
He was able to tour the facilities, meet with coaches like Kevin Faulk and Ed Orgeron and take in that gameday experience that many others haven't been able to because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also on that trip that LSU decided to extend McDonald a scholarship offer.
"It was just a wow moment for me, a wow weekend really," McDonald said. "The atmosphere in the stadium was intense but it was exciting at the same time and just talking with the coaches, you can tell they're really genuine and at first it was kind of like a deer caught in the headlights. Visiting LSU was totally another magnitude."
In the year since LSU made the offer to McDonald, the program has remained in contact through mail and a few conversations with Faulk. Because he was offered back when Tommie Robinson was still the running backs coach, Faulk wanted to make sure that McDonald knew the program was still very interested in him, something the Alpharetta, Georgia native appreciated.
"He was extremely genuine and very trustworthy," McDonald said.
With close to 20 offers, some of the programs who have been consistent in his recruitment are Virginia, Indiana, Nebraska and Minnesota. Most of the schools, including LSU, are recruiting McDonald as a running back.
In regards to his game, McDonald has never had a problem with making guys miss. He's a quick, twitchy runner who relied a lot on those skills as a freshman and sophomore. However, now that he's a junior, he's spent most of the offseason becoming more aggressive running between the tackles.
"Because of the work I've put in, I'm more wanting to go up the middle and show a certain dominance, show that you're not stronger than me and I will run you over," McDonald said.
His new mindset is starting pay dividends as his first couple of games have been stellar. McDonald rushed for 132 yards in his second game of the season, with approximately 120 of those yards coming after initial contact.
"I really felt proud of that performance because I got to see my hard work pay off. It was something I thought would pay off during practice and to see it show up in the game makes me want to work even harder," McDonald said.
When McDonald went on his visit to Baton Rouge, there was an indescribable vibe that came off when touring the campus and interacting with the coaching staff. It’s woven into the culture that Orgeron has built in his now fourth year as the Tigers head coach.
It’s an opportunity that McDonald is very intrigued by and will spend the next year weighing heavily.
"There's a mindset that they have that no matter how high or low they are, they're always foot on the gas. The energy that the coaches give the players because when I met coach O, I couldn't help but have a big smile on my face. He just let off pure energy walking into the room. I think that's infectious around the team and it just lifts everyone up to be one big, strong unit."