SMB safety/receiver Craig McDonald celebrates a touchdown in a victory over Orono in 2018

Minnehaha Academy junior Craig McDonald, one of the top football recruits in Minnesota, has been declared ineligible to play in the 2019-20 season by the Minnesota State High School League.

A 6-2, 185-pound safety who played a key role in the 2018 Class 4A championship run of the SMB Wolfpack – the three-school cooperative also includes St. Paul Academy and Blake – McDonald is currently the No. 6-ranked player in Minnesota by 247 Sports and No. 7 by Rivals.com. He also played wide receiver and returned kicks for the Wolfpack, accumulating 1,650 all-purpose yards, scored 13 touchdowns and had four interceptions. He has made a verbal commitment to Iowa State.

The ineligibility ruling stems from high school league Bylaw 110.00, which limits student-athletes to 12 consecutive semesters of eligibility, whether the athlete participates in a sport or not, from seventh grade through 12th grade.

McDonald entered Minnehaha Academy after going to public schools through eighth grade. At the time, his parents decided to have him retake eighth grade at his new school to give him a chance to mature academically and socially. McDonald had started school with he was 4 years old.

“They didn’t want me to be younger than everyone else,” McDonald said. “I had to mature. I had to grow up. We weren’t looking for an unfair advantage.”

By repeating eighth grade, McDonald, who also played for the Redhawks Class 2A state championship basketball team, will have used up his 12 semesters of eligibility upon completion of the current school year.

“Member schools have decided that the maximum number of semesters available for participation is 12, whether [an athlete] uses them or not,” said high school league Associate Director Craig Perry, who oversees eligibility issues for the league. “It’s very specific in the way it’s worded.”.

The McDonalds have already had one appeal to overturn his ineligibility denied. They are planning to file one more.

Perry didn’t comment on McDonald’s specific case, but said that there is a narrowly defined criteria for allowing eligibility to be restored.

“They have to show a record of withdrawing from school or having an extended absence, like a lengthy illness, that resulted in a loss of opportunity,” Perry said. “A family decision to hold a student back for academic or social reasons does not grant extra semesters.”

McDonald said Iowa State is still firm in scholarship offer to him and that, if his final appeal fails, he’s looked into the possibility of competing at a prep school this fall.

“I’ve talked to a few briefly about the application process, but my first choice is to stay at Minnehaha and graduate with my classmates,” he said. “It seems unfair. And it’s just kind of sad.”

The decision regarding McDonald’s final appeal is expected in early June.

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