University of Miami

Navaughn Donaldson has always been a quick learner, so center is no issue at Miami

Navaughn Donaldson learns to play everywhere on Miami O-line. ‘I’m versatile’

Navaughn Donaldson joined the Miami Hurricanes as a highly touted tackle from Central. Now the UM offensive lineman has experience at tackle, guard and center after spending the final weeks of spring practice as the Canes' center.
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Navaughn Donaldson joined the Miami Hurricanes as a highly touted tackle from Central. Now the UM offensive lineman has experience at tackle, guard and center after spending the final weeks of spring practice as the Canes' center.

Navaughn Donaldson knew one thing mattered above all when he was forced to start playing center ahead of the Miami Hurricanes’ first spring scrimmage April 6. If he couldn’t snap the ball to his quarterback effectively, Miami wouldn’t be able to do anything, so Donaldson, who started the 2018 season as the Hurricanes’ right tackle, made it a priority.

Still, it doesn’t mean it has been easy.

“I mean, it’s getting there,” said the tackle-turned-guard-turned-center, flashing a big smile.

So much has come so naturally to Donaldson since he dove full bore into his sport of choice as a freshman at Miami Central High. He solidified a starting tackle spot from the moment he finally took the field for Rockets practices in the spring of 2014. He did the same at guard when he arrived in Coral Gables as an early enrollee, lining up with the starters once spring practices got underway in 2017. The junior hasn’t even had much trouble since he was pressed into duty as Miami’s starting center earlier this month — except for those sometimes-pesky snaps, everything else is natural to an offensive lineman who has always thrived on surprising athleticism and undeniable intelligence.

As coach Manny Diaz noted after the Hurricanes’ second spring scrimmage Saturday in Miami, Donaldson had been a center for all of eight days. Once he wraps up the Hurricanes’ spring game Saturday in Orlando, Donaldson will have had about 15 days at the position.

“I think it’s been a blessing in disguise because now we feel going into the season we’re going to have an immediate backup center that has experience and has gotten better,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Tuesday. “He can tell you, I think he’s gotten better as far as knowledge of our offense and of the defense, since he’s had to make all the calls as a center this last week and a half.”

He’s right.

“It’s been a real good experience,” Donaldson also said Tuesday, “just learning the whole offense and learning the bigger picture.”

The fact he’s proven capable of the position isn’t particularly surprising to anyone who has followed the lineman’s rapid ascent. Donaldson was the No. 1 overall prospect in Miami-Dade County as a senior, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. He helped Central win a pair of state championships as a starting tackle despite some relatively limited football experience before he joined the Rockets as a sophomore.

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Until Donaldson started at the Miami high school, most of his time was occupied with Amateur Athletic Union basketball, although the plan was always for him to devote his full attention to football once Donaldson, who was about 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds as a high school underclassman, didn’t have to worry about weight limits. The only problem: Donaldson didn’t finish all his paperwork in time to actually play junior varsity as a freshman.

“My JV coach came to me practically crying,” said Central coach Roland Smith, who was a defensive back for the Hurricanes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Everyone understood Donaldson’s potential, Donaldson most of all.

Even though he couldn’t take part in practices or games, Donaldson hung around the football team all throughout the fall of his freshman year.

“He just came to the games, came around,” Smith said, “was always attentive.”

It meant he could find his way onto the field right away once spring practices began ahead of Donaldson’s sophomore season, and it was the same when he joined the Hurricanes, and upperclassman offensive linemen raved about Donaldson’s surprisingly quick grasp of college football and the Miami playbook.

Now as a veteran on the offensive line, Donaldson gets to show off one of his best assets once again.

“He’s a hell of an athlete, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to play center, anywhere on the offensive line because not only is he a smart kid, he’s an athletic kid,” Smith said. “He’s a good kid that will do whatever the team needs him to do.”

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