Payton McDonald started his high school football career playing Iowa high school 8-man football knowing he needed to make a transfer to live out his college football dreams. Now a senior at Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska, he is a state champion and one of the best offensive linemen in the state.
The road to success for Payton McDonald is defined by grit and determination.
McDonald started his high school football career playing Iowa high school eight-man football. He said he knew he needed to make a transfer to live out his college football dreams. Now a senior at Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska, he is a state champion and one of the best offensive linemen in the state.
The offensive line position is an important part of the offense but can be overlooked at the individual level. Linemen as a unit can receive appreciation but individually can be missed. McDonald is used to being the underdog on the three high school teams he’s been a part of.
“Growing up in a small town, you don’t receive exposure for playing eight-man,” he said. “When I hit junior year, I needed to put myself out there and coaches weren’t going to come to me. I knew I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. So, I started raising money for camps to try to put myself in the best position possible.”
McDonald was at a Nebraska football camp in 2021 when the assistant Omaha Burke football coach at the time, Keith Bell, asked him, ‘Have you ever considered playing 11-man?’
“When I first met Payton at the Nebraska football camp, I knew the Lord put me there for a reason,” Bell said. “Payton and I were meant to work with each other, and it has been an amazing journey watching Payton not only as a football player but the man he has become.”
Bell switched coaching jobs when he moved to Omaha Westside last summer. McDonald chose to follow his coach and play for Westside.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” McDonald said. “To go to another school senior year and not knowing if I’ll even start for Westside but I had to follow Coach Limongi and Coach Bell.”
McDonald said he was initially nervous about moving for a third time during his high school career, but he found brotherhood and a sense of belonging the moment he stepped on Westside’s football field.
“Payton was one of the missing puzzle pieces that Westside needed,” Bell said. “If you don’t have a good offensive line, you’re not going to win many ball games. Payton really stepped up when he came to Westside and has handled the pressure.
McDonald said his decision to transfer to Westside paid off. He was on the field blocking when his teammate, Nebraska commit Tristan Alvano, made the game-winning 45-yard field goal as the clock hit zero in December at the Nebraska 2022 Class-A State Championship game. That secured Omaha Westside’s 43-41 win over the Gretna Dragons.
“That was the first time I was ever on field goal block the whole year and I knew what I had to do to protect my kicker,” McDonald said. “As soon as I saw that field goal go straight through the middle, I started crying right away and was struck frozen knowing that we did it.”
Feb. 1 was National Signing Day. Westside had 10 seniors sign letters of intent to play at the next level with schools including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Iowa Western Community College. McDonald announced his commitment to Iowa Western on Twitter on Jan. 25. He will join the 2022 NJCAA National Champions to play OL.
“High school athletes in Nebraska boys, girls, pick a sport. They’re just better than they’ve ever been,” Bob Jensen, publisher for Huskerland Prep Report said. “Westside was able to put together just a tremendous bunch of athletes and the culture Coach Limongi has, he is a really, really outstanding high school football coach. They really resonate with high school football players, and to say they want to play for him as much as themselves. That’s not an overstatement by any stretch. And then when you’ve got the number of really good football players that Westside has, you’re gonna win.”
Jensen has seen McDonald play at Burke and attended the Westside championship game and said he is excited to see McDonald’s growth throughout his career.
“He’s so powerful, he’s so powerful,” Jansen said. “That’s just it, you scratch out a little turf and he’s gonna own it. I think he is custom-made for a JUCO, especially a male high-end JUCO and he’s just getting there.”
McDonald said he knows his journey to play at the next level wasn’t easy. In the beginning, he drove two hours every day for practice and trying to fundraise for camps– on top of helping take care of his little brother and sister. He said he has his stepmom and dad, Chelsea Schneider and Bill McDonald, to thank for constantly pushing him and for the risks they’ve taken as a family for Payton to live out his dream.
“The bond is unspeakable,” Bill McDonald said. “Some families get the luxury of bonding over certain things and other aspects of life. And I think the other kids know just how much they can achieve, and how far as parents are willing to go for them as long as they put in the work and the effort. So, it’s created this I want to say super, super tight-knit bond.”
McDonald is now getting ready for spring football, and he said he knows it is going to take grit and determination to start for the Reivers. He plans to bring the underdog mentality to a powerhouse football program.
“The Iowa Western coaches have shown interest in him, but they always told him we’re not gonna offer you, you’re gonna go bigger.” “There’s no point in us offering you because you’re not going to come here. Once they saw he wasn’t gaining the traction they thought he should’ve gotten, they told him to come on over, we’ve got a home for you,” Bill McDonald said. “The biggest thing that clicked for me was, they said Dad, we know what your kid is capable of, on the field and out of the field. And that’s why we want him. He’s a high-character kid, a high-caliber athlete. And if he’s got dreams, we want to help him get there.”
Iowa Western is McDonald’s best shot to live out his ultimate dream of one day playing for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under Coach Matt Rhule.
“I’m not playing to get recognition, I’m playing for the love of the game and to make myself and the team better,” McDonald said. “I love being a lineman. There is no better feeling than throwing other players around and putting them in the dirt.”