University of Miami

UM’s not-so-‘gentle giant’ freshman might be downright scary on game day

Offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson (55) runs during the second day of University of Miami football camp at Greentree Field on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson (55) runs during the second day of University of Miami football camp at Greentree Field on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.

Please do not offer University of Miami offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson popcorn — or lemon cake, brownies or crab boil for that matter (the crab and shrimp are fine, but that sausage and potatoes…).

Those are some of the treats this 18-year-old savors, the way only a 6-6, former 386-pound football player who has lost more than 45 pounds could appreciate.

“He’s down to about 340,” said his mother, Evaughn Person, a Miami Realtor who was so worried that her extraordinarily large son would be misunderstood by his teachers that each year, beginning in grade school, she’d meet with every one of them before classes started.

“Don’t be intimidated by his size,” Navaughn’s mother would tell the teachers. “Just understand that he is actually a gentle giant.”

“I have always been a very proactive parent,” she said of her oldest child, a former Miami Central Under-Armour All-American who will start at right guard as a true freshman Saturday in UM’s 12:30 p.m. opener against Bethune-Cookman. “This is the first time he has gone to school and I haven’t met his teachers. But he’s very smart — a mathematical wizard. He’ll be just fine.”

Perhaps more than fine.

Donaldson has become somewhat of a Hurricanes legend before he’s even taken a single snap in a college game.

From the first spring practice, when this early enrollee arrived as one of the most coveted O-linemen in the nation, Donaldson has been with the starters and receiving spectacular reviews from players and coaches. Despite his size, he’s quick and nimble and can motor.

“He’s a moving house,” 6-5, 305-pound starting right tackle Tyree St. Louis said of Donaldson, adding the word “truck” to describe the teenager.

Intelligent is another apt word to describe Donaldson, who, according to senior starting left tackle Kc McDermott, “has picked up the playbook just about as fast as any of the freshmen I’ve seen.”

“He knew what he was doing,” McDermott told UM broadcaster and former Canes offensive lineman Don Bailey Jr. this week on Hurricane Hotline. “He had a very clear idea of the playbook. He knew how to read defenses and it showed.”

Be assured that a healthy Donaldson will be groomed to play tackle after McDermott departs.

“I’m here at guard to help the team,” a very serious and focused Donaldson told the Miami Herald in his deep voice on media day, the only time this fall that freshmen have been allowed to speak to reporters. “The coach wanted me at guard until I could get faster and to a certain weight to play tackle.

“This is my chance to start all my games and I have to take it, because this is my future. I have to secure my future.”

Accompanying him on the starting line, besides McDermott and St. Louis, are left guard Trevor Darling and center Tyler Gauthier.

“Navaughn Donaldson does not look like a freshman,” said UM defensive line coach Craig Kuligowksi, whose nationally touted defensive line has its hands full in practice with Donaldson. “He looks like an experienced player. He’s huge, but he’s also very good in his change of directions. Typically, a guy that huge, maybe you can make him miss. You can’t make Navaughn miss. He’s really good.”

Donaldson, who has a 5-year-old sister named Charity, moved with his family to Jacksonville when he was in kindergarten, his mom said. He started playing youth football at age 5, and became a fan of the Georgia Bulldogs — UM coach Mark Richt’s former team — because of the annual Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville. They moved back to Miami before his last year of middle school.

Donaldson visited Florida State, Mississippi State, Florida and North Carolina, where he gorged on “steak, lobster, cookies, red velvet cake, whatever they wanted to spoil him with during recruiting trips,” his mother said.

But his heart was with Miami —low-carb, low-sugar regimen notwithstanding.

“It’s home,” he said. “It’s where my family, my friends, my city are.

“I want to give back.”