The 6-1, 299-pounder has become an anchor at defensive tackle for the Cowboys this season, and is expected to play a major role as Oklahoma State attempts to slow down a Texas A&M offense that is averaging more than 500 total yards (ninth best in the nation) and 41 points (No. 12) on Thursday night.
The Cowboys, 3-0, face the Aggies, also 3-0, in the nationally televised Big 12 opener for both teams at Boone Pickens Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. (Central time).
Donaldson would have never guessed he would end up in Stillwater, Okla., after a standout high school career in which he was named the Anderson (S.C.) Area Touchdown Club Player of the Year after his senior season at Westside High School.
His only two scholarship offers came from two colleges within driving distance of his home – South Carolina State (155 miles away in Orangeburg, S.C.) and Division II Newberry College (80 miles from Anderson) – but not his schools of choice.
“That’s true but I chose the junior college route because I felt like Newberry and South Carolina State wasn’t where God wanted me to be at the time,” said Donaldson. “So He sent me on another route and I ended up here, and I thank Him for that.”
Donaldson ended up halfway across the nation at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, where he redshirted his first year (2006) and caught the attention of major college recruiters as a redshirt freshman with 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“At first I was a little disappointed but my dad told me to keep my eyes on the prize, and keep going bigger and bigger. We chose the route of junior college and hoped it would lead to bigger and better things,” said Donaldson, who originally intended to transfer to Tennessee after his two years at Coffeyville.
But he ended up at Oklahoma State with three years of eligibility, and has worked his way into the starting lineup after backing up Swanson Miller and Derek Burton last season.
“I’ve come a long way, and I’ve learned a lot of new things. I’m glad to be here, and am taking advantage of my opportunity now to play in the Big 12, which is a great league and a lot of competition. That’s where I wanted to compete at,” he said.
Donaldson says redshirting as a 17-year-old freshman at the Kansas junior college was definitely the right decision. If not, he would have been like most junior college transfers who only have two years of eligibility when they sign with a major college program.
He only saw action in five games as a sophomore with the Cowboys in 2008 and played extensively as a backup defensive tackle last season. He proved throughout spring practice and in fall drills that he was going to be a force for defensive coordinator Bill Young’s defense in 2010.
But that wouldn’t have been possible if not for that redshirt season in junior college.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is often wary of signing junior college players because he says it takes them at least a year and a half to get acclimated to playing Division I football and then you only their best effort in five or six games.
“I really didn’t know it was a big deal until coach Jericho, our defensive line coach back at Coffeyville, really sat down and explained how big of a deal it was to me. That’s when I finally realized that I was getting a great opportunity and I needed to seize the opportunity,” Donaldson said.
“Oh, I understand it a great deal. I was talking to the guys last year (who were junior college transfers), Swanson (Miller), who only had two years, and all he was saying was, ‘Man, I wish I had another year. I wish I had another year.’ I’m glad I got another year. I got one more opportunity, so I’m glad I do.”
Donaldson says he’s a completely different player than the one who arrived in Stillwater in January of 2008.
“I’m a whole lot (better than I was as a sophomore),” he says. “I think you can ask the whole team about that. When I got here I wasn’t in great shape, I didn’t adapt to the speed (of the game) real well of Division-I football. But as I kept going, I kept adapting and kept getting better.
“I feel like I’ve made the most progress in the level of strength. Last year I was strong but this year I’m a lot stronger than I was. I thank coach (Rob) Glass and coach (Joel) Tudman for doing that. I’ve spent a lot of extra time lifting and running, so they got me to where I am right now. That’s the big difference,” said Donaldson.
The 22-year-old Donaldson was expected to team with senior Shane Jarka as the anchors on the Cowboy defensive line this season. But both went down with injuries in the first 13 plays of the season opener against Washington State. With Jarka expected to return against Texas A&M, it will be the first time the two seniors will be on the field since the first quarter on Sept. 4.
Although it’s impossible to keep Donaldson and Jarka on the field for every defensive play, Young says it’s imperative the two seniors are lined up beside each other when it matters most.
“(Chris is) extremely critical because he’s playing a position that were really thin at with Shane being out and having a couple of young freshmen in there backing him up. He’s done a good job,” said Young.
“No one can go out there and play every snap inside. It’s just too much physical play in there, and you get tired real fast because you’re pushing them big offensive linemen around. I think resting him is the best thing for us, and making sure you have your best players in there at the most critical time when they get down to the goal-line or third down.”
So, this week Donaldson is looking forward to the challenge of stopping Texas A&M and not Florida A&M (who South Carolina State faces Saturday) or Lenoir-Rhyne (Newberry's homecoming opponent this weekend)..