PORTLAND — It hasn’t taken Portland State’s opponents long to learn what Clark County high schools knew the past couple years.
“He’s a big quarterback back there,” Northern Colorado coach Earnest Collins Jr. said about the Vikings’ Kieran McDonagh. “He’s like a dang fullback back there that throws the ball.
“When he has the ball in his hands, he’s not looking to slide, he’s looking to run you over.”
That’s enough to make McDonagh smile.
“I would say it’s pretty accurate,” he said. “I’m not a shifty kind of guy. I just put my head down and keep running.”
McDonagh, who less than a year ago was leading Skyview High School to the Class 4A state championship game, has seamlessly stepped into a starting role in the NCAA’s Football Championship Series division.
He has helped PSU to a 3-5 record entering Saturday’s home game against Northern Colorado, guiding an offense that is averaging more than 36 points and 450 yards a game.
Starting all eight games, McDonagh has completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,846 yards and 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions, adding 328 yards and eight TDs on the ground.
You could chalk that success up to Portland State’s prescience.
“They were the only team that offered me at quarterback, really,” McDonagh said. “Some other schools talked to me about playing linebacker.”
Maybe that’s because McDonagh is a 6-foot-1, 240-pound rhino of a quarterback who breaks the mold for his position. And along the way he breaks preconceived notions about the type of athlete who can play quarterback.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a prejudice,” he said. “I just think it’s uncommon.”
From the moment he committed to Portland State, McDonagh set out to win the starting job. He spent the spring training with receivers in voluntary workouts; he spent the summer living in a dorm and taking classes.
“I think it helped a lot,” he said. “It helped to build the timing with some of the receivers and some of the relationships we have.
“I had no expectations. I just came here trying to work hard, hopefully get on the field somehow, maybe special teams.”
He has surpassed that. And while the learning process has been quick, it has come with some hitches.
“Kieran’s development has probably been better than we could have imagined,” Portland State coach Nigel Burton said. “He still does freshman stuff now and again. But you don’t have to yell at him; he’s very hard on himself, which is going to make him a great player.”
There have been glimpses of that greatness. McDonagh was named Big Sky offensive player of the week after running for four touchdowns, throwing for another score, and catching a TD pass in a 77-10 victory last month against Idaho State.
And to think that no other college wanted him as a quarterback.
“I didn’t have doubts I could play at this level,” McDonagh said. “I think some other people did, but I kind of use that to prove them wrong.”