Chat up Dustin McDonald ’07 these days, and he’ll remind you about one of the most underused features of Twitter – it’s Lists – and share at least five unique ways to engage followers on Instagram.
The former professional football player might not mention his gridiron days at all.
“That was so long ago,” stressed the digital and social media strategist now living in Washington, D.C.
Back at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, McDonald rarely came off the field, playing three positions. He spent his first year of college at Division III Carnegie Mellon University, getting few carries as a true freshman running back. Unenthusiastic about classes in auditoriums, weary of snow before Thanksgiving, and eager to cut his tuition by two-thirds, he opted to transfer to Mary Washington.
“The best part was some of the professors,” said McDonald, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
No football in Fredericksburg, but his passion for pads and plays didn’t wane, nor did club rugby and flag football satisfy the itch. His senior year at UMW he drove to Richmond three times a week to train at a high-performance center and took his final exams a week early so he could get an extra week of training near Atlanta. An online profile he created piqued interest from the Eidsvoll 1814s, a pro team in Norway, ranked eighth in Europe at the time.
“I had ancestors in Norway, so this was especially appealing,” McDonald said. “Soon I was on a plane, hoping someone was going to meet me on the other side.”
Provided salary, housing, insurance, a cell phone, and access to a car, McDonald played running back, linebacker, and special teams.
“Signing autographs for kids felt pretty funny,” he said. “We had cheerleaders, but they were all volunteers. Most of the fans were actually supporting someone who was playing.”
A playoff run fell short before the team, named for the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814, would have advanced to the semifinals in Austria. McDonald still second guesses his decision to tackle the quarterback late in the game rather than gamble on stripping the ball from him.
“I still wonder what would have happened if I had gone for the fumble,” he said, though it hardly haunts him.
Instead McDonald spent three months touring 24 countries in Europe and Asia; he loved Berlin. He considered another season of football but instead went to work on his master’s in business administration at the University of Florida.
He’s 34 now and recently married Stephanie Byrne in Marseille, France, followed by a honeymoon in Corsica. Looking to establish a social media marketing consulting firm, he regards football as just a blip on his résumé.
Now instead of playbooks of X’s and O’s, McDonald’s preferred reads include TechCrunch, Hacker News, and books by self-help guru Tim Ferriss.
Football has a limited reach in his eyes, but, he said, “technology is limitless. You can affect anyone anywhere.”