Kayden McDonald-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
4-star North Gwinnett (Ga.) DT Kayden McDonald had 20 sacks during an All-State season as a junior in 2021. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

Kayden McDonald: Elite All-state DT begins his senior season on TV tonight after astounding 2021

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s the Intel. This rep has the latest with North Gwinnett 4-star DT Kayden McDonald. He ranks as the nation’s No. 35 DL and the No. 247 overall prospect for 2023 on the 247Sports Composite ratings.

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Kayden McDonald had a junior season akin to what Barry Bonds did in his baseball prime. The 4-star DT racked up the most unbelievable production last fall for an interior defensive lineman.

  • 96 tackles and 62 tackles for losses
  • 20 sacks (!!!)
  • 7 sacks in the first round of the 7A playoffs against South Forsyth
  • 3 sacks and a 4-yard touchdown catch (!!!) in the second round of the 7A playoffs against Brookwood
  • 14 (!!) sacks between Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 of his 2021 season.

To repeat, that was just his junior year. Not a career.

“It is dominating,” North Gwinnett coach Bill Stewart said last November. “It was very special and the biggest thing is he has got another year.”

That “another year” begins on television tonight.

McDonald’s first reps as a senior will have a lot of eyes on him. His North Gwinnett team will be facing Northside-Warner Robins live at 6 p.n. for an unprecedented spring practice broadcast live on Peachtree TV, the CBS46 app and the NFHS network. Archer and Marietta High School will be the other game of the jamboree on the telecast.

No defensive lineman in the country had a more prolific stat line than McDonald did in 2021. It would not be a reach to say no zero-tech nose has ever had seven sacks in a playoff game and then caught a touchdown in the next round of the playoffs.

Especially considering he plays a 7A region schedule (with 2021 state champ Collins Hill and quarterfinalist Mill Creek) in Gwinnett County. Not only that, but McDonald and his Bulldogs faced teams like Archer, North Cobb, Hoover (Ala.) and Parkview in non-region play.

Stuff like that doesn’t happen. Yet McDonald made that happen. He tied the school record for sacks in a season. Those tackles for losses broke the program record.

The previous school record holder was also McDonald. His MaxPreps stats bio credits him with 29 stops for losses in 2020, but that figure was likely a lot higher than that to be the record at a stout program like North Gwinnett.

“That just shows how dominating he can be,” Stewart said. “That is Reggie White-like. He can dominate a game inside and he’s real tough to block.”

The 6-foot-3, 320-pound McDonald is ranked as the nation’s No. 35 DL and the No. 247 overall recruit for 2023 on the 247Sports Composite scale. Arkansas, Auburn, Oklahoma and Georgia are a small batch of the schools that have been recruiting him hard of late.

Clemson and Ohio State were two of his best visits last fall. He’s been to Arkansas and Oklahoma, among others, so far this year.

McDonald was at Georgia last month for G-Day. That gave him a chance to chill with Georgia defensive line coach Tray Scott. McDonald has considered Scott to be an uncle or member of the family for some time.

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4-star North Gwinnett (Ga.) DT Kayden McDonald had 20 sacks during an All-State season as a junior in 2021. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Kayden McDonald: How did he even get to seven sacks in a game?

Power. Speed. Club. Rip. He used a variety of moves to get to the quarterback. That said, he will always give a lot of credit to his teammates for that big night.

“It was a lot of my teammates setting me up for sacks and then just to keep fighting on some of those,” McDonald said. “Just have to keep pushing and then push through.”

The first sack came after the quarterback got chased out of the pocket. McDonald kept coming and got him in the midst of that scramble. He got North Gwinnett’s “Hammer of the Week” honor for that hit on that first sack.

McDonald then got a sack on the very next play.

“That’s when I knew I was going to have a monster game,” he said.

“K-Bo” tallied up four more sacks in the third quarter of that first-round playoff contest. Truth be told, he actually missed out on another 2-3 sacks on the night.

The others came via 1-on-1 protection where he had a good matchup. He lined up at nose for a lot of those, caught double teams and was just so quick off the ball. He was able to get leverage and get into gaps.

McDonald estimated he beat double teams on at least three of those seven sacks. The 4-star even got a sack on a key fourth-down play. He even got triple-teamed.

“They blocked me on that one,” McDonald said.

McDonald said Scott even reached out to him about his 7-sack night the next day. It was the day before the Bulldogs took on Tennessee in Knoxville.

“He said ‘Wow’ and it was a real blessing to hear from him and all the coaches that are recruiting me who reached out after that game,” McDonald said. “I got a lot of phone calls and texts from coaches.”

How does an offensive coordinator allow the fifth, sixth and seven sacks to even take place? Why drop back? Maybe roll the pocket from him? Maybe go to the quick game or just run the ball?

North Gwinnett had a plan.

“We moved him around a little bit,” Stewart said last year. “There were some times he did get doubled and fought through that. He actually got a sack while being doubled. We moved him around just enough where they weren’t exactly sure where he was going to be gap-wise every play. We made it harder for them to double.”

Stewart’s wife has a tradition for the boys.

“When you get your first sack, you get a sack of brownies,” he said. “She bakes them brownies. After five sacks, you get another sack. So he obviously has had his share of sacks and brownies. So when he got seven sacks in one game, she bought him lunch. So he got the brownies and lunch for that one.”

“That’s a special day. That’s a once-in-whenever kind of day.”

And then he got a touchdown catch the following week.

“We had been practicing that,” Stewart said last November. “He’s carried the football for us before in games and last year he got [a touchdown] as well running the ball. That was the first time we threw to him, but if you watch the play he looks like a dang tight end out there. He’s athletic. He sticks the ball out over the goal line. It doesn’t look like a big ol’ lineman out there. He’s actually pretty skilled at it.”

Those “wow” moments are every week. He will bore through two guys and still make the play. McDonald makes his living off great effort and great physical strength.

“When he gets his mind made up that he is going to cause havoc and get to the ball, then he’s pretty impossible to stop,” Stewart said.

He did get a penalty the night he racked up those seven sacks. So he didn’t grade out a perfect 100 for that contest.

Perhaps the defining moment of his junior season came after the last game. He sent Stewart a text after a 17-14 loss to Brookwood in the second round.

“Basically telling me to get ready and he was getting ready for next year,” Stewart said. “It was almost where he shot me a text to make me feel good or to make me feel better. He kind of let me know that he’s already all-in and ready to go for the next season.”

Stewart thinks he would be a good fit in Athens.

“He’s a really good kid and a great young man from a great family,” Stewart said. “He fits the mold of those UGA guys and the guys we have sent recently [Warren Ericson and Payne Walker] up to Georgia.”

McDonald gets a steak fajita and a ground beef taco at the same spot in Buford every Thursday before his games. That is always with his mother Kristi Green.

“It is a ritual,” McDonald said. “I won’t feel the same if I don’t do that. My mom and I go out to eat every Thursday just me and her. We spend time together and just talk about school and football and stuff.”

Check out McDonald’s junior highlight reel below.

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