LAWRENCE — Its often referred to as the island, the place where cornerbacks spend most of their time during games. They are isolated, playing a demanding position, often operating without the security blanket of a safety or linebacker.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
For Kansas junior Dexter McDonald, it has never felt better to be all alone. Last year, he was trying to remake his reputation at Butler County Community College. One season later, McDonald, a former Rockhurst High graduate, is bolstering a rebuilt KU secondary, leading the Jayhawks with five pass breakups and one interception in two games.
KU sits just 1-1 after a disappointing loss at Rice last week, but McDonald and junior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd have added some much-needed stability to the KU secondary. One year after KU surrendered a program-worst 289.2 passing yards per game, the pass defense ranks third in the nation in yards allowed (122.5 per game).
Its a blessing, and Im just going with the flow right now, McDonald said Wednesday. Its definitely amazing thinking about what I had to go through, and Im lucky to be back where I am now to have a second opportunity.
The perks and pageantry of Division I football the plush facilities, the television exposure, even the food can feel like a foreign world after spending a year in the juco ranks. Butler wasnt quite football purgatory, of course its a national juco power that regularly sends players to top programs but McDonald was motivated to prove he could get back to the top level of college football.
I had to work and get back on the map, because a lot of people thought I might not make it back to Division I, McDonald said. Or (they thought) that might be the last they saw of me when I transferred from KU.
McDonald started at KU in 2010, choosing to play for coach Turner Gill after drawing heavy interest from Missouri. After redshirting, he played in seven games in 2011 before being dismissed by then first-year coach Charlie Weis in early 2012.
In a twist, McDonalds one-year sabbatical may have altered the trajectory of Shepherds career as well. Last year, Shepherd was entering his sophomore season as a reserve wide receiver. The Jayhawks, though, had a shortage of viable options at defensive back partly because of McDonalds departure. Shepherd was soon converted to cornerback despite having no experience at the position.
After some shaky beginnings, Shepherd appears to have settled in at the spot, recording three pass breakups this season entering KUs matchup with Louisiana Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday in Lawrence.
He flips over to defense, and hes an offensive player playing corner, Weis said. Now hes a corner playing corner.
When fall camp began, Weis had all but penciled in junior-college transfer Kevin Short as one of KUs starting cornerbacks. Then the NCAA ruled Short academically ineligible for this season.
McDonald and Shepherd bonded. In 2011, when Shepherd arrived on campus, he would often line up against McDonald in practice, a freshman receiver going after a redshirt freshman cornerback. Two years later, hes happy to be lining up next to him.
When I got here my freshman year, just going up against him, he was one of the toughest (defensive backs) to go against, Shepherd said. So now, actually being able to play on the opposite side of him, it actually helps me.