Much of Miami’s success in 2017-18 was due to their work in the trenches, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. On the offensive side, the Canes featured some returning talent, but were truly elevated as a group by the arrival and quick progression of then-freshman Navaughn Donaldson. The 6’6” 340 lb guard may have been the largest freshman any of us have ever seen. While his size was very useful, it takes much more to start as an offensive lineman on a successful team in a Power 5 conference. It takes athleticism, a high football-IQ, and a level of consistency that typically eludes most freshman. However, the local product from Miami Central High School was able to enroll early and maximize his spring reps to be able to use all of those qualities and quickly move up the depth chart.
Donaldson secured the starting right guard spot heading into the season and never looked back, helping Miami’s rushing attack amass totals of 254 rushing yards vs Toledo, 210 yards vs Virginia Tech, and 237 rushing yards against Notre Dame. Thanks to Donaldson and the rest of the line, the Miami rushing attack continued to be effective through the majority of the season without missing a beat when star running back Mark Walton went down for the season.
While the freshman had an overall positive first season in Coral Gables, there were some growing pains. Donaldson missed two games in the middle of the season with an injury, and like the rest of the team, tapered off at the end of the season, resulting in a 3-game losing streak after the Canes won 10 in a row to start the season. There were plenty of hiccups, including a complete dismantling of the Canes O-line by the “Power Rangers” of Clemson, but we can expect those all to be valuable learning experiences for the undoubtedly talented rising sophomore. His performance this past season did not go unnoticed, as Donaldson secured a Freshman All-America nod (ESPN, FWAA) as well as a Honorable Mention on the All-ACC team. Another solid piece of local recruiting by the Canes coaching staff has already reaped rewards, as Miami has its anchor on the offensive line for the next 2-3 seasons.