In the sport of football, Eric Donaldson has only recently come into his own.
Considering that baseball was “his sport” for as many as 13 years in his youth, this should hardly come as a shock.
Born in Windsor, Donaldson and family moved around some, with stops in Redbridge and North Bay before landing in Sudbury some six to seven years ago, just prior to high school.
One of four children in a household split evenly between boys and girls, Donaldson was a typically active, sports-minded young man.
“I always like trying new things,” he said recently. “I wanted to go into boxing, but my parents wouldn’t let me.”
By the time he had decided that Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School would become his home for the next four years, football was clearly on the radar.
In Grade 9, he would be the sole representative from that class to crack the varsity roster, playing only sparingly but enjoying a city championship upset over St. Benedict in his very first taste of the gridiron game.
“It was definitely the next level of sport for me,” said Donaldson. “The intensity was so much higher, and the passion the guys had in the game. That team won it all that year. I saw that and thought, ‘I want that.’”
A wide receiver by choice when he first stepped on the South End field, Donaldson was approached by coach Kevin Ellsworth before the junior season of 2010 about making the switch across the line.
Something about possessing much more of a defensive mindset.
It was just the latest in a series of great calls from the well-respected local coach.
While Donaldson has lined up in a variety of spots within defensive formations, he makes no bones about his favourite.
“I prefer halfback — that’s what I’m most comfortable playing,” he said.
“It’s half linebacker, half defensive back. You can get out to the flats pass, you can go deep for posts and corners, you’re the first person to pick up the seam pass, and the outside run is your job.”
With all of this responsibility, is it any wonder Donaldson would finish the summer of 2012 as the defensive points leader on a very impressive Sudbury Gladiators crew?
While he may bleed purple and silver, Donaldson would not have missed his past two summers with the Glads for anything.
“Throughout the years at Lo-Ellen, we’ve always had a very strong defensive core,” he said.
“But moving to the Glads, it was neat putting pieces together from all over. Like Bishop Carter — I never would have thought they would have an amazing defensive tackle,” said Donaldson.
“Logan Bisschops is one of the best defensive gap fillers that I’ve ever met. It was amazing getting to play with those guys.”
But come the fall, it’s all about the Knights, and more specifically, reaching the pinnacle of the SDSSAA ranks once again.
“You have to push each other in a positive manner in order to succeed,” said Donaldson.
Of course, much of that push also comes courtesy of Ellsworth and his coaching staff. If the man on the sidelines carries with him a ton of respect for his on-field defensive captain, it’s clear the feeling is mutual.
“(Coach Ellsworth) understands where players come from and what they need to hear in order to make them succeed,” said Donaldson. “His ability to work with every player differently is amazing.”
“He is the reason why I am the way I am. I’ve devoted four years of my life to this game.”
The payoff is now apparent. Donaldson is set to join the Concordia Stingers come next September, bringing a skill set that he hopes will find him field time at the downtown Montreal university.
“I’m not very fast, I’m not very big, but I’m smart about it,” said Donaldson. “I know the game. I like to consider myself a smart player. I do my job on the field, (and) make the tackles when I need to.”