Langley Rams rookie offensive lineman Donovan McNee felt like he dodged a bullet.
McNee suffered a left knee sprain on Oct. 3, during the Rams’ 35-23 win over the host Westshore Rebels at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
Initially, it was feared the 19-year-old McNee – a Meadow Ridge Knights product and Samuel Robertson Technical Secondary grad – may have suffered a torn MCL.
This would have been an especially tough blow for McNee, considering it was the junior Rams’ final regular season game of the B.C. Football Conference season.
“I was blocking one of their defensive linemen when someone got thrown into my leg,” McNee said. “I was worried that I might have suffered a really bad injury to my knee and wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the season.”
McNee said he’ll be ready to go come this Saturday, Oct. 17, when the Rams face Nanaimo’s VI Raiders in one of two BCFC semifinals being played this weekend (the other match-up sees the first place, 10-0 Okanagan Sun hosting the fourth-place Kamloops Broncos at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna on Sunday, Oct. 18).
Rams head coach Jeff Alamolhoda said the 19-year-old McNee won’t let the injury slow him down.
“He’s a fighter,” Alamolhoda said. “We know he’ll be back.”
Saturday’s win over the Rebels sealed third place in the BCFC standings and a playoff date for the Rams, who finished with a 6-4 record, two points back of the second place Raiders (7-3) and two points clear of the 5-5 Kamloops Broncos.
Langley will be heading into their sudden-death playoff game at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo with the services of the 6’1” 300-pound McNee, who’s carved a reputation for pulling his jersey to his chest during warm-ups and while he’s exiting the tunnel.
In Alamolhoda’s words, McNee lets “his white belly hang out” as part of a ritual.
“I do it to cool off, essentially,” McNee said. “It’s something I’ve always done during high school and community ball. I’ve caught some of the other guys doing it with me, too.”
McNee has built a solid body of work in his freshman campaign.
Alamolhoda said he started out as the “sixth man” on the Rams’ offensive line rotation before quickly battling his way up to a starting role, manning the left guard position while also shifting over to centre.
McNee said while he has enjoyed his first year of junior, it’s a quantum leap from community and high school football, where he starred with Maple Ridge’s SRT Titans.
“It’s been great,” McNee said. “I’ve learned a lot. It’s a big jump coming from community and high school ball. It’s a lot more competitive. To earn a spot on the opening roster was a big challenge for me but it’s been awesome. I’ve had a great time.”
Just as important as McNee’s skill-set is his attitude, Alamolhoda stressed.
“He’s such a hard worker. He works his butt off and doesn’t say much,” the bench boss said. “It’s been a blessing to have him come on board and be as productive as he has been, as quickly as he has…”
McNee has fit right in with his teammates and, Alamolhoda said, “his attitude has been a blessing, as well.”
McNee is part of an “O” line that has created holes for running back Nathan Lund to scamper through.
Lund benefited by finishing second in the conference in rushing, carrying the ball 74 times for 621 yards and five touchdowns.
And while the quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs get most of the limelight, McNee simply likes playing smash-mouth football every weekend.
It’s why he got into the sport in the first place.
McNee said he “has always been a bigger kid” growing up and grew tired of playing soccer and baseball, neither of which provide the opportunity to barge into opponents.
“So my parents put me in football,” McNee said. “I started as an offensive lineman from day one and played some ‘D’ line too, and I love to play physical. That’s why we play the game – we get to run around and hit people.”
Offensive linemen don’t get the credit they deserve, in McNee’s opinion.
“People definitely don’t understand the thought that goes into it, or how athletic you have to be as a big person,” McNee said. “You have to move a lot quicker than it seems. You’re grinding it out and making those holes and blocks, making sure your quarterback and running back can look good and make those plays.”