AMES — Jake McDonough, age three, donned his replica Chicago Bears helmet and issued a bold proclamation to his parents.
“I’m going to be big and tall,” the now-6-5, 280-pound Iowa State nose guard said confidently.
Not only that.
“I’m going to play football,” he added. “I’m going to play in the NFL some day.”
Mom, Erin, stood 5-7.
Dad, Scott, measured about 6-0 — and remembers when Jake’s wistful, but matter-of-fact words nearly dissolved into the crucible of his skeptical mind.
“My wife has been so fabulous, because she taught me not to have that pessimistic view, or try to be a realist with Jake,” Scott McDonough said. “She allowed me to allow his belief to foster.”
Thus began an odds-defying journey for Jake McDonough: Award-winning violinist, promising Hip-Hop beat creator and foremost mangler of opposing offensive lineman, who is uncomfortably mired in a bye week.
A survivor of a 2009 bout with food allergies once so severe, tests showed his stomach couldn’t process broccoli or beef, along with dairy- and wheat-based foods.
A down lineman who couldn’t keep food down that summer, eventually wasting away to 220 pounds, leaving his three-year-old self’s dream in serious jeopardy.
“It was a struggle,” said Jake McDonough, now one of the brightest, brawniest stars of a Cyclones defense allowing just 10.7 points per game in three straight wins. “It was mentally and physically taxing to get sick like that; throwing up all the time is taxing on your esophagus. My insides were pretty torn. I was losing hope — the fact that, ‘OK, if I can’t get this fixed, now what do I do?’ I had multiple conversations with my parents, a kind of, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can take this’ type of thing.”
Turned out, he could take a lot (but doesn’t drink milk anymore).
A chance encounter with a former West Des Moines Valley High School classmate sent him to Dr. Zachary Watkins of the Livewell Clinic in Clive, who diagnosed his ailment and began treating it effectively with an array of supplements.
By midseason of 2009, he’d bulked back up to 255 pounds.
He played in only one game, but saw a once-again bright future ahead, even though exactly what led to his severe food allergies never fully came to light.
“Finally I was able to start proving to people I’m in this thing for the long haul,” McDonough said. “I’m not giving up. I’m a diehard Cyclone. … I stuck it out and started proving people wrong. That was my whole motivation right there — not just to prove them wrong, but to prove to myself I can get through this.”
There were several scary moments.
He once fainted when he went home to help his mom with yard work.
A dizzy spell sent him spilling into his parents’ coffee table.
One day, his dad once drove to Ames after not hearing from him and pounded on his door.
“Seemingly out of options, he began dialing 9-1-1.
Just then, Jake’s number popped up on his phone.
“I’m like, ‘Thank heavens you answered the phone,’” Scott McDonough recalled. “He’s like, ‘What?’ I’m like, ‘Jake you don’t know. I’m outside your door. I’ve driven up because we were so worried about you. We were afraid something bad had happened.”
Hope has once again replaced worry.
McDonough is a bona fide all-Big 12 type of player, thanks, he said, to his coaches, including strength guru Yancy McKnight.
“The development of Jake McDonough as a playmaker is what we were counting on,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said this month. “Not hoping for, counting on.”
He’s also a mix-master.
He provided the beat — with help from a guitarist and the ISU drum line — to a Tech N9ne/Makzilla-enhanced, Cyclone football-themed song that played before last week’s win over Western Illinois.
He did the same for a track called “Rock Yo Head,” one of the most popular iTunes downloads from Tech N9ne’s current album.
The Cyclone tune was something of a birthday present for Scott, who still owns an “I love the ISU drum line” button he collected at games in 1984.
“It meant the world to me,” Scott McDonough said.
The stuff of dreams — which face enough turbulence as toddlers morph into grade-schoolers, adolescents and young adults.
Clip them for what you’ve determined to be their own good at your own peril.
“Sometimes parents can get in the way of kids’ dreams by being realists and saying, ‘Well, the odds are …’” Scott McDonough said.
“We have a great program coming up here,” said Jake McDonough, who has a team-best 2.5 tackles for loss this season. “Music’s starting to spark up for me. I’m very thankful that everything has seemed to fall into place right now, whereas three years ago I thought I was on my death bed.”
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