Former football standout earns degree 30 years after leaving Penn State

Quintus McDonald appreciates 'outpouring of love and support' after achieving goal

Quintus McDonald, right, celebrates with classmate Jon Gross at graduation. Credit: Trey Miller / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Perhaps it’s not surprising that a former Penn State football player latched onto a goal-oriented approach and utilized a team’s worth of support to find success.

Still, Quintus McDonald was humbled and surprised after earning his bachelor’s degree earlier this month.

“It boils down to just being determined to complete the task that was at hand. Even though I began working on it more than 30 years ago, it was a goal that was still available to me, and I wanted to make the most of it,” said McDonald, 52, a four-year letterman who played linebacker for the Penn State football team from 1985 to 1988 before being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and playing 40 NFL games in an injury-shortened career.

Life after football was not always easy, with emotional and physical challenges that sometimes led him in directions he admits were “the opposite of how I was brought up.”

In recent years, though, McDonald credits his faith and family, especially his wife, Karen, with encouraging him to complete his education. He earned a degree in telecommunications during commencement exercises for the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications this spring — three decades after he first left campus.

“The staff did a tremendous job walking me through things with my many questions. They were considerate and kind and understanding. Without that team effort, this never would’ve come to fruition,” McDonald said. “And I had no inkling there would be such an outpouring of love and support.”

In the days after commencement, his degree prompted hundreds of congratulatory messages on social media and in person. The support humbled McDonald, who remains an imposing figure at 6-foot-3 and more than 260 pounds.

“I don’t know that I feel differently. I do appreciate how it made others feel, though,” he said. “There’s tremendous pride and it means so much because I’ve learned there were people who were in my corner, even in my darkest days.”

When McDonald considered returning to complete his degree, the initial hurdle was financial. He had an outstanding bill with the University. Once that was settled, he worked through his remaining credits, completed an internship, and, this spring, finished his final course, in microeconomics.

When it was done, he said his most overwhelming feeling was empowerment.

That’s especially relevant because he works to empower others through his business, I-Am-Recycling Inc. ( The nonprofit offers programming and support with youth and adult programs in his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, as well as Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

In addition, McDonald and former teammate Blair Thomas lead a Penn State football-focused website, Nittany Sports Huddle. Through that, McDonald had actually hired one of his 2019 classmates, broadcast journalism student Jon Gross, to host a podcast.

He flashed a broad smile regularly at commencement and enjoyed celebrating with Gross and his much younger classmates.

“I was honored to be up there with those youngsters, and I was honored because I know the prestige of our university,” McDonald said. “I’m proud that I finished something that I set out to do, no matter how long ago it was.”

Last Updated June 02, 2021