“Are you ready champ?”
After waiting nearly two years for this moment, it was finally here. There I was, standing in the tunnel at Colorado State’s stadium, getting ready for the first start of my college career. We were entering the game as 17.5 point underdogs, but here was our team chaplain, Gregg Tipton, pumping me up.
“I’ve been ready for this,” I responded, because it was true. In many ways, this moment wasn’t the culmination of a two-year wait. This moment had been several years in the making - one that had tested my faith and my patience. But as I would have told you that night, and as I would still tell you today, God has a way of pulling you through.
Even when the journey is longer and more difficult than you anticipated.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Cole McDonald and I am the quarterback at the University of Hawaii. Last season was a dream come true for me, but it was only a few years ago I wondered if I would get a chance to show I could play.
(Photo courtesy of Hawaii Athletics)
When I chose to play at Sonora High School in La Habra, California, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My cousin went there and had a great experience at the school, and convinced me that I would love it too, but Sonora wasn’t known for football. And as I soon found out, your school’s reputation is almost everything when it comes to recruiting.
I landed the starting quarterback position as a sophomore, but that didn’t raise any eyebrows on the recruiting circuit. College coaches were more interested in the name on the front of my high school jersey than what my film looked like. If your school had produced other elite athletes in the past, that was somehow supposed to reflect what your career would look like in college.
Of course, that doesn’t really open the door for someone to be the first athlete to come out of their school. La Habra is one of those little towns that people don’t recognize, so you have to give directions to it. A 40 minute drive north of Disneyland, or 90 minutes east of downtown LA.
And a million miles away from a scholarship.
As a kid growing up in Southern California, I had dreams of being the next star quarterback at USC...I had watched Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, John David Booty and Matt Barkley all have success, and I wanted to be the next one in line. But by the end of my senior year I was no closer to a scholarship with USC than on my first day of practice as a sophomore.
I had a lot of late nights back then, losing sleep over my future. I would sign up for these quarterback camps and play 7-on-7 football with other elite players, but as I later found out, the coaches would go there with a select few guys in mind that they wanted to see. Unless you were lighting up the opposing defenses, they weren’t even really noticing you. Or at least willing to take a chance on you.
The waiting began to take its toll, and I started comparing myself to all these other guys getting scholarships, but I never lost my belief in myself or my belief in God. I would read the verse from Isaiah 40:39, which talked about staying strong in the midst of adversity.
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” it said. “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I needed to keep praising God in the rough times, because just around the corner was the phone call that would change my life.