San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald is a key presence on the 49ers' menacing defensive line. He started all 16 games this year, totaling 28 solo tackles and 2.5 sacks.
McDonald's success seems even more improbable when one takes into account that he 10 years ago, was unranked by scouting websites as a Florida high schooler.
While that may seem like a long time ago for McDonald, he and his 49ers teammates recently received a surprise reminder of their roots.
During the 49ers' bye week, coach Jim Harbaugh and his assistants placed a placard above each of his players' locker that had a high school photo of them as well as their recruiting rankings.
Harbaugh has not revealed, publicly at least, the exact purpose of the placard. But team spokesman Bob Lange said Harbaugh "wants the players to be able to interpret the reason for it in any way they want."
For McDonald, the placard serves as a symbol of less successful playing days.
"Reminds me of how bad I [stunk] when I was in high school," McDonald told the Los Angeles Times.
For other players, the cards remind them of their high hopes.
"Coach really wants us to tap into what we wanted to be at that time," said safety Donte Whitner. "When you look at this picture, it's like, 'At this moment, what did I want to be?' We all look at this and we understand what we wanted to be, and where we are now."
For certain veteran players, their high schools days might be harder to remember. The photos of 35-year-old Randy Moss and 34-year-old Leonard Davis are in black and white. While Moss was the top-ranked high schooler in the nation, some of his teammates were unranked in high school.
And the fact that they all ended up in the same locker room holds a certain significance.
"With this, you really don't have to explain it," Donte Whitner said. "It's, 'Aw, man, I remember this.' It's something to make you play a little harder on Sunday."
(H/T to Deadspin)
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