Sports

Merced High football prepares for Edison's Big Three

FRESNO -- It doesn't take much to upset T.J. McDonald.

Just ask his father and high school coach Tim McDonald, who was a six-time Pro Bowl safety during his 12-year NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.

"He doesn't want to be called Tim," the Fresno Edison coach said. "He's T.J. If you call him Tim, he'll look at you crazy."

T.J. has definitely made a name for himself.

The USC-bound senior is one of the top players in the country, and he has a fan in Merced coach Rob Scheidt.

"T.J. McDonald is probably the best high school player I've seen ever," Scheidt said.

"Everyone knows he's a great safety, but it's everything he does.

"He's their holder on (field goals), he plays H-back and blocks well and he can catch the ball.

"It's all the different facets of his game that elevate him over other players."

Scheidt has spent hours this week watching McDonald on tape as Merced (2-0) prepares to face Edison -- which sports service Rivals ranks as the 16th best team in the nation -- on Friday at Fresno's Chukchansi Field.

Game planning against McDonald can cause headaches on its own.

However, he's just one of three All Americans suiting up for Edison (3-0).

McDonald shares the spotlight with a highly touted receiver in Rolando Jefferson and one of the top cornerbacks on the West Coast, Cliff Harris.

There's not enough aspirin for coaches preparing for this trio.

All three players were selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January and all are listed among the top 12 recruits in California by Rivals.

"Individually, if we lined up our guys against theirs and paired them up one-on-one, we'd lose a basketball game," Scheidt said.

"They've got a lot of talent. But if we work together collectively, I feel we're better in some areas.

"Fortunately, it's a football game that lasts 48 minutes. We're going to have to play a complete game."

Slowing down Edison's playmakers is no small task.

Teams like Madera and Fresno Central have watched Edison put up 69 and 70 points earlier this year.

Coach McDonald uses his trio of all-stars everywhere.

Punts and kickoffs have routinely been brought back all the way for touchdowns by Jefferson and Harris.

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Jefferson is going to be a handful for any secondary.

"Rolando is a receiver who can catch the ball, run and he's savvy," the elder McDonald said.

"He's the complete package. Even for someone like myself -- who has been around the game for a while -- he can do things that make you say, 'Whoa!' "

Facing big-time receivers is nothing new for Bernard Bolden and some of his Merced teammates.

Bolden more than held his own against Los Angeles Crenshaw's receiving duo of Kemonte Bateman and Clint Floyd -- both now at Arizona State -- the last two years.

He's also spent hundreds of practices going head-to-head with former teammate Jarrett Sparks and current stars Kenny Cooper and Eddie Beavers.

"(Jefferson) is a lot bigger than the Crenshaw guys and he might be a little faster," Bolden said.

"He's a receiver who will go up and get the ball. I'm going to have to be on my toes and do everything right fundamentally."

Harris is Edison's version of Bolden -- a player who may line up anywhere.

"You name it, he can play it," Tim McDonald said. "He'll return punts, kicks, play corner, receiver...just about anywhere.

"He's a kid, (who) if you give him the ball, he's going to make something happen."

T.J. admits there are times when he catches himself just watching his teammates.

"Rolando just does things you can't teach," T.J. said. "It's just natural ability. It's the same thing with Cliff.

"They both just have special talent."

Which brings us back to McDonald.

The 6-2, 200-pound sledge hammer has been around football his entire life.

"The little attention he got before his sophomore year, there were some people who felt it was because of his dad," Tim McDonald said.

"He was determined to prove people wrong. As he's grown up, he's wanted to be himself."

Somewhere along the way Tim Jr. became T.J.

"It's natural for people to compare me to my dad," T.J. said. "My dad is a great person and I share my name with him.

"But I also want my own identity."

Obviously, he's well on his way.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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