Declan McDonald doesn't let the moment get the better of him.
The St. Ambrose freshman is preparing for his first start at quarterback after the Fighting Bees have suffered injuries to their top two quarterbacks in their last two games.
Dino Borrelli broke his collarbone against Saint Francis (Ind.), then John Benckendorf suffered a non-contact hamstring injury in last week's win over Olivet Nazarene, forcing McDonald into action.
He didn't panic, leading the Bees to a 17-7 win.
"Honestly, I was pretty calm. I was surprised how calm I was," McDonald said. "I kind of just did my own thing, went out and ran the offense as well as I could. We do the same thing on JV so I was comfortable calling the plays but the speed of the game was a little different."
Benckendorf is expected to miss two to six weeks with the injury.
So, now getting ready for his first start against Trinity International, McDonald has had time to process something the Elburn, Illinois, native never envisioned as a possibility after starting one year in high school for Marmion Academy.
"It's still pretty crazy to me to think about it," he said. "At some points I wake up and it doesn't feel real but then I come to practice and I know it's my job now, this is what I've got to do. I'm happy with where I'm at, and I'm excited to play."
It's a situation the Bees never imagined when breaking fall camp confident with Borrelli and Benckendorf as co-starters. The position was slightly thinned out when junior Aaron Kussmann suffered a dislocated kneecap in spring ball, but nobody saw McDonald getting any shot at the varsity level in his freshman year.
Against Olivet, McDonald was 2 for 5 with 34 yards and had two carries, one a 1-yard touchdown on what Magistrelli said was the first quarterback sneak he's called in his 13 seasons as head coach.
"He is a confident kid," Magistrelli said. "We were probably more rattled as coaches than he was as a player, and I think that's a compliment to him. He came out in the second half and did a great job of running the offense."
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Magistrelli can't recall a situation in his coaching career that rivals the challenge the Bees faced on Saturday. But with how McDonald performed, it gives the team hope it can continue to keep itself atop the conference standings.
"Off the top of my head, I can't think of a tougher one," Magistrelli said. "Injuries are a part of sports and football and there's times you're going to have to put a freshman in that's not maybe necessarily ready to play or you're hoping not to have to play at that point and you can get by with that at a lot of other positions, it's really tough to get by with that at the quarterback position. I think that's a compliment to Declan and how he played a week ago that we were able to do that, and we need that to continue."
Magistrelli said McDonald's athleticism is one of his biggest strengths, similar in playing style to former St. Ambrose quarterback Barney O'Donnell. McDonald's focus is on balancing that ability with playing in the St. Ambrose system.
"The game kind of slows down for me when I'm playing so I see things that not a lot of people see," McDonald said. "I pull the ball, I have a lot of different options and since it's slowed down for me, I think that helps me make big plays."
To help McDonald out, the Bees have worked on some different offensive packages, not just to limit how much McDonald has to absorb but also to protect him as much as possible. Fellow freshman Rian Schmidt is the only other healthy quarterback left on the roster, so the Bees are looking to utilize wildcat packages with receiver Vince Vignali to provide other options on offense.
"We were doing that in preparation for (Benckendorf), limiting the snaps John was going to be in there and taking some hits," Magistrelli said. "But now, even more so with Declan. We'll expand that and try to figure out some other ways. You've got to get creative."
The quarterback situation puts pressure on the defense to play at a high level, but Magistrelli doesn't see that being an issue, especially after the Fighting Bees forced five turnovers last week.
"We just need them to keep playing the way they've been playing," Magistrelli said. "I think there's been pressure on them throughout the season, and they seem to play at a high level, regardless."
If there was ever a time for this to happen, it's now for the Bees. They host 1-6 Trinity International and then have a bye week to make more adjustments.
However, with all the challenges the Bees have had to face, they know they can't overlook the Trojans.
"If we don't approach this one the right way and play well again this week, we're basically giving that Olivet win back," Magistrelli said. "We've worked too hard to give anything away. We talked Monday about what is a typical trap game, and this is it."