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September 29, 2010

McDonald always makes his presence felt

The pendant at the end of his necklace didn't appear by accident. In fact, it's as close as it gets to a replica of himself, but Kansas State tight end Andre McDonald doesn't have the ego for that. Instead, the freshman has been turning to his cartoon likeness as his defining accessory since it was purchased for him in third grade.

Seems the Tasmanian Devil, or "Taz D", as McDonald refers to him, might as well be a 6-foot-8, 277-pound freshman athlete.

The similarities here are striking.

"He's loud. He's eating all the time. He's always tearing stuff up and bouncing off the walls," McDonald said. "I absolutely see him in me. I was tearing up Tonka toys as a kid. If it can be broken and I'm around it, it's getting broken."

Take a walk onto the field at any one of the Wildcats' practices and it doesn't become difficult to grasp the comparison. Sometimes, the insanity is subtle. Take an incident from last week, for example.

During a the end of a running exercise that left most players involved exhausted and quiet, the most vocal tight end on the roster spent the end of the sprint session acting like, well, a cartoon character. The race car-like engine noises bellowing from his gut could be heard for the entirety of more than one 100-yard sprint, yet nobody else on the field so much as flinched.

By now the routine is commonplace.

"I grew up as an only child, so I'm always trying to find ways to entertain myself," McDonald said.

Mimicking an engine is one of his more subtle forms of self-entertainment.

Outside of a seemingly endless string of spot-on imitations of his coaches, most of the comedy McDonald creates is of the unintentional variety. At any moment, McDonald is likely to give onlookers some kind of show.

"He'll do this weird stuff and not care if anyone is watching or not," center Wade Weibert said. "We all just now figured out that he just does it because he wants to do it. He's really not trying to get a rise out of this stuff. I'd hate to think that he does the things he does at home, but yeah, I think he does. I don't doubt that he does all this stuff when he's by himself."

Word is the story gets even stranger. So if the best McDonald story never reaches the public, there's certainly room for an imagination to go wander, and his teammates don't do much to stop it.

"In the locker room, when you look over at his locker, you're really never quite sure what you're going to see," Weibert said. "You just don't know what he's going to be doing. I can't even talk about the strangest stuff. You know? There's a lot of that stuff I'm not allowed to comment on. There's no way to clean up a lot of it enough for me to tell you."

McDonald doesn't necessarily seek laughs, but it's quickly become difficult for everyone, including the K-State coaching staff, to stop themselves from chuckling at his antics. The reach of his quirky mannerisms have at times even penetrated the business-like exterior of his head coach.

Team meetings are rarely stopped for comic relief, but when McDonald came strolling into the room with his trademark dreadlocks puffed out into a giant afro just days ago, even the composed Bill Snyder was caught off guard. While others in the room let some laughter leak out prior to their head coach's realization, Snyder dropped his serious demeanor momentarily and let the words still sitting on everyone else's tongue escape the end of his.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, instantly turning the snickers in the room to full-fledged laughter.

According to Weibert, the 70-year old veteran followed his question up with an informal poll gauging which players though his tight end's hairstyle looked good.

The nays had it by a landslide.

"He's not a quiet kid," Snyder said when asked to describe McDonald. "He's growing. He's a freshman and he's growing. He's learning how to mature. He's 18 years old."

As a rule, the last thing you want to do as a coach or other authoritative figure is allow the still-maturing McDonald to become bored. His reaction manifests itself in different ways and was part of the reason why he found himself in the doghouse on a few occasion during his redshirt season. These days the antics, though still prevalent, are toned down and now working in way that keeps up the "spirit" with which Snyder likes his team to play.

Of course, getting in on the gameday act, most notably the 18-yard pass he hauled in on third-and-10 to keep the team's game-winning drive alive a week ago, did wonders to quell an ever-dangerous spell boredom.

"I can't be the loud guy that grabs all the attention like I was when I first got here," McDonald said. "We're a team now and I'm just one part of it. I still have a lot of fun, but it's not like when I first get here."

Just where his growth goes from here is uncertain. Snyder has adamantly toyed with the idea of beefing up his already massive tight end for a move to tackle that would surly make him one of the nation's most outspoken and colorful offensive linemen. Sure the head coach elected not to pull the trigger prior to the current season, but that door, it would seem, is not one that has been slammed shut.

So is there a position change in the freshman's future?

"It's not automatic that we're going to do that with him," Snyder said on Tuesday. "It just depends on what our needs are."

Just where the man calling shots stands on the issue seems hazy for now, but, for McDonald things on that front are a little less murky. So while Snyder may make another run at it someday, for now, the Oklahoma product seems just fine with being who he is, both on and off the field.

"I really don't want to play line," McDonald said. "I want to catch the ball. The coaches use the excuse that tackles make more money (in the NFL). I tell them I'll take less money if I can catch the ball. I don't want to move. Tight end is where I fit."

Hey, it's hard to completely tame Taz D.



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