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Once a McDonogh football player, Charles McDonald makes a name for himself as NFL writer

New York Daily News reporter Charles McDonald is a name that rings bells for die-hard football fans.

Not as well-known, though, are his roots in the Baltimore area as a 2012 McDonogh graduate.

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McDonald was born in Decatur, Georgia, before spending his formative years in Maryland and Charlotte, North Carolina. His family settled in Ellicott City before he was a sophomore in high school. He played on Mount Hebron’s junior varsity football team as a defensive lineman in 2009 and played his last two seasons for the varsity football program at McDonogh.

His former head coach at McDonogh, Dom Damico, understood what kind of effort McDonald put in on a day-to-day basis. Damico had a strong relationship with both of McDonald’s parents, having met them when Charles was still in grade school.

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“Charles was a tough football player,” said Damico, who was recently hired as the head football coach at Mount Saint Joseph. “He was versatile. He played offensive and defensive line. He was undersized and gave great effort, but I think the thing that I remember about him was that he was the kind of kid that you didn’t have to tell to make sure he doesn’t put all of his eggs in the football basket.

"I knew Charles would be successful way after his last college football game and especially the kind of kid he was — I think that comes from both of his parents.”

McDonald continued his playing career at Gettysburg College for two seasons. He made 23 tackles with a sack and a pass deflection. McDonald had to do some soul-searching during his time in college after hurting his back while playing. He had to decide whether playing football was the most important thing.

He ended up giving up football, leaving Gettysburg and finding his passion in writing.

“I took some time to figure things out and I was taking English at Gettysburg and it’s not a real journalism track — they didn’t have one,” McDonald said. "I studied English and learned how to write and in my free time, I had this blog. I had this blog where I did weird draft reports. I used to watch Aaron Donald tape when he was at Pitt because I played defensive line and he was like the god back then. I used to watch his Pittsburgh games to see if I could get some tips and tricks from him.

“I started writing about it, like scouting reports, mock drafts and that was the start of it. I don’t remember the name of the blog that I had — it was just some janky Wordpress blog. That’s how I got started with it.”

He went on to take a few journalism classes at Loyola Maryland. In 2015, he began his blogging career and wrote for NFL Mocks as part of the FanSided network. He continued to work on the side and eventually wrote for Football Outsiders — a site that helped him find his voice. McDonald mentioned the site as being “R-rated football analysis,” with the writers breaking down plays with a more conversational tone — and a little bit of cursing sprinkled in.

“It felt very natural and then when I got there and I realized that people like my personality and they like the way that I write, that’s when things started to click for me,” McDonald said. “From there, I kind of bullied my way to this website called the Falcoholic [an SB Nation blog] — I’m a Falcons fan, born in Decatur, and I was doing film breakdowns and kind of giving my own insights on what was happening.”

He wrote for the Falcoholic during the 2015 season and then he went on to do some work for Bleacher Report in 2016, specifically working the NFL1000 Project. The project was akin to what scouting website Pro Football Focus does with their player grades. Each writer was assigned a position, and McDonald fittingly had defensive tackle.

McDonald graded and ranked each defensive tackle throughout the year, compiling a list, and it was his first time writing on a big stage. Though he didn’t write too many long-form pieces for Bleacher Report, it was the moment he realized that “OK, wow. I belong — I can do this. This is something that I built myself and it’s working.”

The 2017 season was spent in deep statistical analysis for Football Outsiders. McDonald analyzed film with the numbers gathered on the site and was called to do a presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston in 2018. Just a few months later, he arrived at SB Nation with his first full-time writing gig as a senior NFL writer. The summer of 2018 until fall 2019, McDonald worked with the Vox Media-owned site before being hired at the New York Daily News for the same position.

After having such a long, exciting and rewarding journey, McDonald is constantly appreciative of where he began.

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“It’s been a real, wild ride,” McDonald said. "I don’t know how many people that have a path — it’s just so different. I didn’t have any real journalistic training. It was just something that I picked up on the fly and I would just read other people’s articles and take notes and notice how other people handled their business and still tried to have fun with it at the same time.

“It’s been fun growing throughout the years and making friends in the business and growing and being able to build an audience that’s pretty receptive to what I say, whether it’s good or bad — smart or dumb."

He went from being an undersized player at McDonogh, who never finished college, to making it to a paper in the largest media market in the United States. His Twitter handle — @FourVerts — has attracted more than 20,000 followers.

McDonald never talked Xs and Os with his former high school coach, but Damico understood that McDonald’s cerebral approach to his academics would allow him to stretch far and wide for his goals.

“[I wasn’t] surprised that once he started to dive into the Xs and Os and schemes and tape, he’d be very successful with that,” Damico said.

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