Camren McDonald isn’t just intent on setting goals, a list of what he wants to do after graduation and what he’d like to achieve in life. He’s driven to make a difference now.
The Florida State junior tight end decided in 2020 to start a non-profit, the Making Change Foundation, with the intent on serving pizza and food to those in need. He also took a 200-hour yoga certification course during quarantine and volunteers a few days each week emphasizing mental health, physical health and wellness to FSU students.
“I believe a lot of it had to do with how I was raised and what I was exposed to growing up because I had a lot of influential men in my life who told me that the most important thing is transcendence,” McDonald said. “So it doesn’t matter where you start, nobody is in control of their starting point in life. What you are in control of is how you finish and the way that people perceive you as your life goes.”
McDonald’s mission is one of service and he said, “My purpose is to serve God by serving others.” Coach Mike Norvell has also encouraged McDonald and the FSU football players to be active in the community.
“In Coach Norvell’s program, service is actually a big part of what we do,” McDonald said. “Our three foundational qualities are service, sacrifice and respect. So I take the word service, and I tried to execute that in my daily life.”
McDonald says Norvell doesn’t just discuss these foundational qualities occasionally or in the offseason. The frequent discussions from coach to team helped spark McDonald’s interest.
“It wasn’t until coach Norvell got here (until) service was really preached daily in my life,” McDonald said. “One day I was sitting back thinking, ‘How can I be an example for the younger players on the team? An example for the younger people in my family, which is even more important? How can I show them that I am somebody who really believes in the cornerstone of service?’ And I feel that the only way to do that is through execution.
“When coach Novell got here, and he was emphasizing it, that changed how I conducted myself on a daily basis. It doesn’t always have to be community service. I serve my teammates daily by the person that I show up and who I am. How I show up daily and who I am on a daily basis, that’s service to my teammates. When coach Norvell preaches it on a daily basis you see a change in guys’ lives daily.”
The coronavirus pandemic impacted everyone’s life in different ways. McDonald felt a motivation to expand his interest in yoga, a practice he discovered as a high school sophomore at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly. He immediately realized a difference, saying, “That just made my body feel outstanding.” Since then, he and his sister made yoga part of their lives.
“But when we were in quarantine I didn’t want to come out with nothing,” McDonald said. “I decided to pick up a skill and that skill was to become a 200-hour certified yoga teacher. Now I’m certified and it’s legal for me to teach yoga and make money while doing it. I haven’t made any money while teaching. I’ve just been doing it all for the community service initiative.”
In his first year as a starter for the Seminoles, McDonald makes connections on the football field, catching 22 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
From his performance on the field as a receiver and someone who is dedicated to improving as a blocker, to the tone he sets in the tight end group and offense, McDonald sees himself as a sparkplug. It’s a leadership quality he has studied and written about at FSU.
“One of my favorite leadership styles is sparkplug leadership,” McDonald said. “Somebody who is able to be a catalyst that triggers team chemistry and explosiveness. I’ve written a few papers on the theory of sparkplug leadership. I talked to my teammates about the concept of sparkplug leadership because if everybody within a group is a sparkplug-type leader then that group is going to be very, very explosive and the chemistry is going to just mesh well together. That’s my favorite type of leadership style.
“I’ve had conversations with coach Norvell because I think he is a man who has displayed some of the greatest leadership qualities that I’ve seen. He said that you can’t read a book and figure out how to be a leader. It’s either in you or it’s not in you. I see not just me but individuals on the team, leadership qualities growing daily because of the leadership that we have at the tip of the spear in our program.”
McDonald’s desire to lead has also been evident away from the football program. He participated in FSU’s first ProfessioNOLE Ready trip in May 2019, connecting with FSU graduates and donors who are business and community leaders.
“He interacted with donors and spoke very eloquently to the group about his experience as a student-athlete,” said Sarah Petronio, FSU’s director of student-athlete development and events. “He showed great appreciation for the role our boosters play in creating successful programs. Cam is a passionate individual, a natural and authentic connector and creative entrepreneur at heart.”
In those interactions with Boosters, McDonald has shown the appreciation he and the Seminoles have for those who have funded scholarships and FSU’s athletics programs.
“Thank you for putting not just me but my teammates in position to change our lives,” McDonald said. “Every single person in this program has a burning desire, especially starting at the at the tip of the spear. Coach Norvell has a burning desire to win every single day. And the only thing that we focus on daily is our growth today.”
McDonald knows what fans see from FSU on Saturdays. The 2-5 record isn’t what players and coaches want. But McDonald wants fans to understand the players are committed to improvement with a focus not just on Saturdays but on each practice, class and community service initiative.
“In the coming years, even after my time is up at FSU, I just feel like the coaching staff that we have right now is the exact right pieces to get Florida State back to being a storied football program in college football,” McDonald said. “But I want that to happen while I’m here. I have a burning desire inside of me to leave the Florida State football program in a better position than what I received it in 2018. I want next year to be in better standing than it was this year. I want it to get progressively better daily.”