Jermaine Donaldson is a high jumper and late bloomer.
Those two things are related.
“You should see him dunk,” Eastern football coach John Doherty says of Donaldson’s work on the basketball court.
For most of his youth, Donaldson was focused on basketball. He didn’t start playing football until eighth grade.
But his basketball background might be one reason Donaldson has made such rapid progress in football. He’s a big guy who can move his feet.
“I think basketball is where I got my athleticism,” the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Donaldson said the other day during a break in an Eastern practice.
Now a senior two-way lineman, Donaldson is fully focused on football. He plays basketball only in pick-up games or when he’s fooling around in one of the Vikings’ gyms.
“I used to be all basketball,” Donaldson said. “Now I’m all football.”
Earlier this summer, Donaldson committed to attend Temple on a football scholarship. He also had offers from North Carolina State, Nebraska, and Boston College.
“I just really like what’s happening there,” Donaldson said of Temple. “Plus it’s close to home. My mom can come and see me play. That was important to me.”
Doherty and Donaldson both believe the big lineman has just begun to scratch the surface, given his late start in the sport.
“He’s so athletic,” Doherty said. “He’s come such a long way. I remember sophomore year, he still was leaning more toward basketball.
“He’s going to get better and better.”
Donaldson grew up in Lindenwold. He didn’t start playing football until he moved into the Eastern school district and joined the Junior Vikings’ youth program as an eighth grader.
“I wasn’t very good at first,” Donaldson said. “It was new to me. Up until freshman, sophomore year, basketball still was my favorite sport.”
Unlike many two-way linemen, Donaldson prefers offense. He’s projected as an offensive lineman at Temple.
“I love offense,” Donaldson said. “Offense is what I do.
“I like blocking for my running backs and quarterbacks. I like everything about offense. I never really liked defense that much. Offense is just my thing, I guess.”
Eastern has made steady progress over the course of the current seniors’ careers. The Vikings went from 1-9 in 2015 to 4-6 in 2016 to 5-5 last season, when they qualified for the South Jersey Group 5 tournament.
Donaldson believes the Vikings are ready to take another step, perhaps to the upper echelons of South Jersey football.
“This year we have a special group of guys,” Donaldson said. “I really feel like we can do something big this year, maybe even win Group 5. I expect some big things from us this season.
“We worked hard and now it’s senior year and we got a full team of seniors and some younger guys, I think we’re going to do good.”
South Jersey offensive linemen to watch
Dan Auberzinsky, Ocean City senior: He has drawn recruiting interest from FBS-level college programs.
Ronald Custis, Camden senior: He transferred to Camden from Winslow Township, where he was a three-year starter and first-team all-Constitution Division player as a junior.
J.C Dobis, Shawnee senior: He started all 12 games last season for the South Jersey Group 4 champions.
Jermaine Donaldson, Eastern senior: He is a Temple recruit.
R.J. Gaskill, Woodstown senior: He has drawn recruiting interest from FCS-level college programs.
Robert Glocker, Paulsboro senior: He was a first-team, all-Memorial Division choice as a sophomore and junior.
Jake Ketschek, St. Augustine sophomore: He is one of South Jersey’s most promising young linemen.
Beau Lanzidelle, Shawnee senior: He started all 12 games last season for the Renegades.
Brad Lomax, St. Joseph senior: He is an athletic lineman who excels in open space and doubles as a top defensive end.
Bobby Metz, West Deptford senior: He was a first-team all-Colonial Division selection as a junior.
Curtis Miller, Timber Creek sophomore: He is one of the state’s top young linemen, already generating heavy interest from FBS-level college programs.
Diondre Pearson, Northern Burlington senior: He was a first-team, all-Patriot Division choice as a junior.
Colin Poisker, Delsea senior: He was a first-team all-National Division selection as a junior for the South Jersey Group 3 champions.
Wisdom Quarshie, St. Joseph senior: He is a Temple recruit as a defensive lineman but also is a dominant force on the offensive side.