Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds. From Plant City through St. Petersburg to Annapolis, pressure has been a permanent force impacting the life of Xavier McDonald.
Many people would have buckled under that pressure, that force. Not only has McDonald emerged from the trials and tribulations of early life as a diamond, but the Navy Midshipman has also channeled everything that has been thrown at him into being a role model and leader — with an air of humility that is rare to find.
Pressure Didn’t Burst Xavier McDonald, it Formed a Diamond in the Navy Midshipman
“Honestly, I didn’t think my story was enough to get out there and motivate people,” McDonald explains to College Football Network during an exclusive interview with the Navy Midshipman.
Though those came in the middle of an engaging and humbling 20-minute conversation, the power of those words and the ones that follow struck me almost as much as the story itself.
“The more people talked to me, when I’d tell them my story and how they’d react to it, how they’d be astonished, I’d be like ‘it’s just my life, it’s something simple.’ The more I thought about it, I realized that I really did go through a lot and I really changed myself for the better just for other people, I really developed myself as a man, and that gave me a lot of courage to keep going.”
Courage has kept McDonald going throughout his journey, but it’s not the only factor. Family, faith, and the desire to emerge from tough times as a leader and as a role model have all played a part in taking a kid from Plant City to one of the most prestigious academic establishments in all of America.
In an era where empathy and sympathy can be hard to come by as everyone has a story to sell, McDonald has persevered against pressure – sometimes in silence – but always with the intent of his actions speaking far louder than his words. That’s what makes his story so inspiring but at the same time also humbling.
He is in many respects a diamond that shines brightly for others, not himself.
The McDonald family arrived in St. Petersburg in 2016 — during Xavier’s freshman year of high school. His father, Clarence McDonald, and mother, Bonnie Martinez, moved the family — Xavier and his four younger siblings — from Plant City to a place they’d never been before, a city where they had no connections, no other family, no security.
It was the epitome of starting a new life.
That situation, that pressure, is hard enough at the best of times, and by his own admission, it wasn’t the best of times for the McDonald family who “didn’t have much” and “there were times when my family was struggling, we struggled to find housing at times.”
Those times toughened with the incarceration of both parents.
It’s easy in tough times to become despondent, downbeat, self-absorbed. But, for McDonald, he knew there was a bigger cause than himself.
Despite being just a school kid, he took on the responsibility of caring for his four younger siblings while working towards a promise to his mother of getting a college scholarship so that he didn’t place any further financial burden on the family.
“I worked as hard as I could those two years,” McDonald says of his freshman and sophomore seasons at Northeast High. “Then in my junior year when I was old enough to work I would go to school all day, then after school, I’d go to practice, then I’d go to work.”
“My days would sometimes run from 7 am to 11 pm.”
Out of Adversity, McDonald Became a Role Model
At Northeast, McDonald was a 3.5 GPA student. He ran track and played football. He was also working as a cashier at Winn-Dixie in order to provide for his family.
It’s exhausting thinking about the mental and physical exertion required to juggle so many different aspects of life, let alone actually doing them.
“I didn’t get tired,” McDonald insists, “because I knew I had a purpose and reason to do it. I was doing it for my family. I was working 35-40 hours a week, that was basically what I was doing for the rest of my high school career, trying to earn money for my Mom to help pay the bills and take care of my brothers and give them an example to look up to.”
It’s almost 1,000 miles from Petersburg to Annapolis where McDonald projects as the starting Striker for Navy in the 2023 college football season. Between high school, working, and helping to care for his four younger siblings, his journey has been far longer than the sheer distance between two places that have proven pivotal in his life.
Talking to McDonald, however, you wouldn’t know the hard hand that life has dealt him unless you just happen to be asking him questions specifically about the subject. There’s something extraordinary about someone making the situation appear ordinary, something special about the level of selflessness that it takes to put others before yourself in everything that you do.
“Growing up in the same situation as me, I really didn’t know what they were going to turn out like so I wanted to give them a good example and try and be a role model for them.”
Being a role model manifests itself in multiple ways. Overcoming adversity to reach one of the most prestigious academic establishments and play football at the FBS level is the most obvious in this situation, the most apparent.
However, it extends beyond athletic and academic accomplishments. As McDonald enters his fourth year at Navy, with the level of comfort that affords him relevant to where he’s come from, I was curious as to how his upbringing, how him having to establish himself almost as a parent to four kids despite being a kid himself, has impacted his relationship with his parents.
Unsurprisingly, his answer is another example of how he’s dedicated his life to the pursuit of excellence while becoming a role model to his siblings:
“Our relationship is really good now. I’ve no regret, anger, or animosity towards anything that happened before. The way I looked at it, it wasn’t about how I felt, it was more how I was portraying myself for my younger siblings. I didn’t want to be the one where it was like “oh my older brother is still mad at Mom and Dad for doing this and that.”
“I didn’t want to do that, I don’t think that’s right. No matter what, they’re still my parents and I still love them to death. I’m not going to hold anything against them. Also, holding grudges doesn’t change anything, you know? It doesn’t help.”
The Impact of a Football Family
McDonald is adamant that he doesn’t know where he’d be in life if it weren’t for adopting the position of a role model to his siblings growing up. It gave him a sense of purpose that drove him from St. Petersburg to Navy and will continue to drive him to every destination that comes along the way. But Kamron, Jacob, Joshua, and Micah aren’t the only reason he’s gotten to where he is.
During his junior year at Northeast, McDonald established a relationship with the Compton family that resulted in him moving in with the family ahead of his senior season. The Comptons provided the stability that formed the foundation of his continued success while nourishing him both physically and spiritually.
“She was definitely a cornerstone in my development,” McDonald speaks passionately about the impact Amy Compton has had on his life.
“She altered the course of my life. I can’t give her enough appreciation to show her how thankful I am for doing that because, I’ve no idea what I would be if I didn’t meet her. My life could have been completely different.”
It’s safe to say McDonald also had a profound impact on the Compton family.
“Xavier has faced challenges in his personal life that are almost unimaginable,” Amy told the Capital Gazette.
“The fact he’s accomplished what he has is more than amazing; it’s a miracle. Xavier has done all this on his own, which is truly incredible. He’s just a great example that a tough background and difficult circumstances don’t have to define who you are.”
In many respects, McDonald has overcome adversity entirely on his own to escape a pressurized family situation as a diamond rather than a burst or broken individual. His determination and drive to provide, both financially and as a role model, provide inspiration and motivation not just for those close to him, but also for those who have heard his story—and those who get to tell it.
Yet, for McDonald himself, there are key characters who have helped signpost his story and guide him along the way. Characters like Aunt and Uncle Katrina and Emanuel Michael in Plant City who “played a huge part in my life growing up. Kept me level-headed, made sure I was good in school, so I had a strong foundation when I got to high school.”
For some, “Football is Family” is a cliché that is wheeled out to support any cause that is the flavor of the month in the NFL. However, at Northeast, McDonald found family in the football team. Most importantly, he found Coach Jeremy Frioud, who recognized the athlete that he could become and worked fervently to ensure that he would get recruiting recognition.
“He helped me get the offers, and set up my film, exposed me to the outside world. He helped show people that I was a good athlete and a good person both inside and outside of school. He’s been a huge part of my success.”
And that respect goes both ways.
“The amount of mental toughness that kid has shown is unbelievable,” Frioud told the Capital Gazette in 2021. “No one overcomes the type of serious adversity Xavier did. And the truth is that no one really knows how bad it got except Xavier, who kept it all to himself. I’ve never seen a kid who was so determined, and so resourceful, to find a way to get it done.”
The annals of Florida high school football are littered with stories of exceptional athletic talents that struggled to escape tough times and ultimately succumbed. McDonald is the opposite, a story of resolve to overcome adversity that led him to play college football at Navy — an opportunity that will see him travel to Ireland in August to represent the school — and himself.
His is a story that should provide inspiration and motivation for those in need of it.
McDonald endeavored and endured primarily to become a role model for his siblings, but in doing so, he has the ability to be the diamond that shines brightly for anyone who is facing dark times — no matter what those times may be.
“Never quit,” McDonald responds when I ask what advice he has for anyone who finds themselves in the situation he’s been in, to come from where he’s come from, to get to where he is now.
“Never quit on your dreams. If you want something bad enough, you’re going to work for it. There’s going to be times when it’s going to be really dark, and you’re not going to want to keep going. You’re going to want to succumb to all the pain and pressure that you’re experiencing.”
“If you can get through that, I promise you everything on the other side is so much greener, so much brighter, so much better. Keep pushing, because you never know what can happen. I feel like those situations, the one that I grew up in, that pressure builds you as a person, builds character, and that character doesn’t go unnoticed.”