LaGrange graduate set to play college soccer
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
His senior season was cut short, but LaGrange High graduate Johnny McDonald will have some more soccer to play.
McDonald, who only played in three games as a senior because of a hamstring injury and the coronavirus pandemic, has signed a letter of intent to join the men’s soccer team at the University of North Georgia.
A signing ceremony was held in the LaGrange High cafeteria on Friday, with friends, family members and coaches on hand to celebrate the moment with McDonald.
“I hadn’t planned on playing in college, and this opportunity kind of came up about two weeks ago,” McDonald said. “It happened really fast.”
McDonald, who toured the campus earlier in the year, has enjoyed getting to know North Georgia head coach Patrice Parris.
“He’s really patient, and really helpful,” McDonald said. “So far my experience with him has been great. He’s been really helpful with me coming on so late.”
Shane Pulliam, LaGrange High’s soccer coach, is happy to see his former player get this opportunity, especially after the way his senior season ended.
“He gets injured, and then he finally gets to the point where he can start to come back and play, and it all gets taken away” Pulliam said. “It’s unfinished business. So, I’m so excited for him to get to keep playing.”
McDonald had a phenomenal prep career at LaGrange, highlighted by his 2019 season when he was named the Region 5-AAAA player of the year after helping the team win a region title and reach the second round of the state tournament.
McDonald appeared headed for another memorable season this spring, and he had two goals in his first three games before he was injured.
“I pulled my hamstring my senior year, and I only played three games,” McDonald said. “That was a factor (in deciding to play in college). A lot of people wanted me to go play.”
McDonald made a massive impact during his time as a member of the LaGrange soccer family.
When McDonald was a sophomore, he scored five goals for a team that went 13-5-1 and made it to the second round of the state tournament.
That season was especially enjoyable because McDonald got to play alongside his brother Liam McDonald, who led the team with 24 goals after not playing the previous year.
“That was just a dream come true for me,” McDonald said, reflecting on that memorable sophomore season. “Every single game I was looking forward to it, every practice. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
McDonald stepped up as the team leader in 2019 and led the way with 15 goals and 22 assists while helping LaGrange go 14-4-2.
“My junior year, that was a breakout season,” McDonald said. “I got the region player of the year. Every single game getting later in the season, I was getting assists or goals. It felt good to be able to provide for my team.”
The 2020 LaGrange team was 7-3 and had some impressive wins to its credit when the season ended.
Now, McDonald will find out if he has what it takes to achieve the same level of success on the college level.
“I’ve grown used to high-school soccer and club soccer,” McDonald said. “Going to play collegiate soccer is going to completely change the way I look at the game. I’m excited to see what that’s like.”
McDonald won’t have to wait long to show what he can do in college.
Soccer is a fall sport on the college level, and North Georgia is scheduled to open its season in October.
“He could probably go to a major Division I team and play,” Pulliam said. “He’s got the grades, he’s got the work ethic, he’s got the fitness level. A lot of kids don’t make it because they don’t like running, but he loves running. He runs all the time.”
McDonald wore a GPS device during his senior season, and that provided a first-hand example of how much effort he applied during a game.
“You can back that up with GPS data from a game,” Pulliam said. “He ran 7.9 miles as a midfielder in the Starr’s Mill game. He will work hard for you”
McDonald is the first college signee Pulliam has had during his three seasons at LaGrange, and the coach is confident there will be more to come.
“I think we have two or three from this upcoming senior group that want to go and play, so hopefully that starts the avalanche going down the hill,” Pulliam said.