Donahue looks to shed small-school label, sack QBs with Jets

New York Jets' Dylan Donahue speaks to reporters during NFL football rookie minicamp, Friday, May 5, 2017, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New York Jets' Dylan Donahue speaks to reporters during NFL football rookie minicamp, Friday, May 5, 2017, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

Dylan Donahue was as far away from a football field as he could imagine, working on an icy roof and wondering what had become of his NFL dreams.

Laying out quarterbacks had been replaced by him laying down shingles in the fall of 2012, when Donahue was helping with his father's roofing business in Billings, Montana.

After a redshirt season at the University of Montana Western, Donahue left school as poor grades and too much partying made playing football in college, let alone the pros, an unlikely scenario.

"The route I had to take caused me to never give up," Donahue said during the New York Jets' three-day rookie minicamp. "I could've given up at any point, just like the rest of my friends and my teammates that gave up at some point along the road.

"I just decided to keep going."

Nearly five years later, Donahue is a fifth-round draft pick out of Division II West Georgia, a relentless outside linebacker/defensive end who's expected to help jumpstart the Jets' pass rush and be a key contributor on special teams as a rookie.

"It's been pretty incredible," Donahue said. "I honestly didn't expect to get drafted, coming from a small school. It's a blessing."

And quite the redemption tale.

The 24-year-old Donahue, whose father Mitch played four seasons in the NFL with San Francisco and Denver, got off the roof that chilly day and decided to take the advice of a friend: go back to school.

He ended up at Palomar College, a junior college in southern California, and rededicated himself to academics and athletics. Donahue had 19 sacks in two seasons there before heading to West Georgia.

Donahue thrived with the Wolves, piling up 25 1/2 sacks in two seasons and establishing himself as a legitimate pro prospect in the process. He went to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and impressed scouts and coaches, including Jets outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.

"We talked for a long time," Donahue said of Greene. "I think after watching me do my drills and then watching a lot of tape, he liked me. So that's what made him stick out his neck a little bit for me."

Greene, a Hall of Famer who had 160 career sacks, and Donahue established a connection that carried through the draft.

"I just feel like me and coach Greene have something in common," Donahue said. "He had a high motor and that made a lot of success for him, and I think it's done something for me. I think he sees a little bit of himself in me."

Donahue said Greene was one of his father's favorite players, and the youngster certainly resembles Greene, with his long locks, scruffy facial hair and ultra-confident approach. They were both fifth-round draft picks, too, although Greene came out of football powerhouse Auburn.

The fact Donahue was a product of a Division II program had some wondering how his game would translate to the pros. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds — mirroring Greene's measurements during his playing days — Donahue's size wasn't off the charts. Scouting reports said he had short arms and smallish hands, all adding to the chip on his shoulder.

"Just coming from a small school and getting that label," Donahue said. "I feel like if I went to a D-I school, I would've been (drafted) in the first or second round. I have no doubt in my mind, actually, about that."

Donahue was then asked if the Jets got a steal in taking him.

"They did," he said. "No doubt."

While that remains to be seen, Donahue is already getting coached up by Greene, who chatted with him several times after drills during the team's practice Friday.

"I know coach Greene likes my pass rush," Donahue said, "but I'll do anything the coaches want me to do, as far as special teams and how I fit on the defense, so we'll just figure that out as we go along."

Donahue's father played against Greene a few times in the NFL and always told stories about him.

"Just how relentless his pursuit was to the quarterback and how he made quarterbacks hurt," Donahue recalled, "and they didn't like him on the field."

And that's exactly what Donahue is aiming to be.

But first the Montana native needs to tackle the one thing that has intimidated him since coming to the Jets: traffic in the metropolitan area.

"The way people drive around here is a little bit different from home," he said with a laugh. "Well, all the honking is like a second language, I feel like. It's like saying hello in New Jersey."