Growing up down the street from the Orange Bowl and Hard Rock Stadium, he didn’t fail to take note of the Hurricane greats.
When the time came for offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson to choose his college destination, he stayed home, hoping to develop similarly to his UM predecessors, such as tackle Ereck Flowers, a 2015 NFL first round draft pick.
And even after working up to starting 12 games at left guard in 2019, the current fifth-year senior’s college career hit a fork in the road.
In the middle of a drive during Miami’s 2019 regular season finale against Duke, the 6-foot-6 homegrown tackle tore both his ACL and MCL.
“First, it was trying to walk,” Donaldson said. “Six months, I couldn’t even put pressure down on my leg, so I think what happened was I had to really have a conversation with Kyle [Bellamy], our nutritionist, and just believe in our strength program.”
With uncertainty as to when he’d next play for the five-time national champions, Donaldson was determined but he also knew the rehabilitation process was easier said than done.
“I wasn’t focused at all. I ain’t going to lie to you,” Donaldson said. “I couldn’t do nothing, but go home, treatment…I couldn’t even drive my car. I felt like being hurt really made me take a step back and made me understand myself better. I came back mentally, physically and emotionally stronger, and plus I was able to step back and watch the team.”
Almost an entire year elapsed until the 2017 Freshman All-America selection realized the possibility of returning to the gridiron. His spirit remained high on the sidelines, nonetheless.
“The NC State game, I was hyped,” Donaldson said of Miami’s comeback win on Nov. 6. “I wasn’t even playing, but I wish I did, so I’m just grateful to be in the position to help my team and work alongside them.”
Just weeks later, Donaldson stepped back onto the same turf at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium, where he felt excruciating pain prior to re-learning how to bend his knee.
Donaldson continued his mission to make a full return during the summer, with his supporting cast offering unwavering support the whole time.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape possible,” Donaldson said. “I’ve been working with coach Feeley and his crew, putting in work with my team, or in the track or the weight room every single day. I feel good, I’m just ready to go out there and work.”
Donaldson’s extra hours have begun to pay off for his teammates, who will rely on him for what could be the final ingredient to running the ball more this fall.
“To have Navaughn back, he’s been working his tail off in the weight room. He’s been running very well,” junior running back Cam’Ron Harris said. “Just running behind him, taking on two people and opening up the holes — that’s what I need. That’s what all the running backs need, basically.”
Fortunately, time is on Donaldson’s side.
“That’s not an easy rehab that Navaughn had to go through,” head coach Manny Diaz said. “One of the great things about this year not counting against your eligibility, you don’t have to worry about redshirting or worry about anything. He can just work his way back in.”
While Donaldson tries to remain as versatile as possible, he’s also fostered a productive environment with the offensive line’s younger core.
“I feel like the biggest difference is everybody is coming in strong. Everybody is on the same page, as in, ‘Let’s get some work done. Let’s come out with a plan to get better and we just come out and work for each other.’ We really just need to understand that we have to set the tone, we can’t wait for nobody else. I feel like this is the next process in our evolution.”