Philly Backers Back in Philly

Omar McDonnaugh-Hales/Lamar McPherson

Temple linebackers Lamar McPherson and Omar McDonnaugh-Hales have a lot in common, from family ties to a relative lack of size. Both of them left Philadelphia after high school, and now both of them are back, playing for Coach Al Golden's squad. Both of them also earned top spots on the Owls depth chart following spring practice.

Lamar McPherson and Omar McDonnaugh-Hales are Philly guys, with no apologies. At this point, they're also starting linebackers for the Temple football squad.

At a position depleted by graduation (Ryan Gore, Walter Mebane), transfers (Ryan Herting), and player absences (John Haley, Keith Holt), McPherson and McDonnaugh-Hales took advantage of their springtime opportunity, grabbing two top spots on the depth chart. They won't apologize for that, either.

McPherson and McDonnaugh-Hales, who are cousins, have come too far on their way back to Philly.

"I'm a city guy," said McDonnaugh-Hales, who graduated from Germantown High School and played a year at Lackawanna (Pa.) College before joining the Owls in January.

"I always liked Temple," said McPherson, who starred at Bishop McDevitt High School and signed with Syracuse, then transferred back home a year ago. "I would have liked to stay close to home."

They started in the same place. They're back together, where they want to be. But the routes they've taken couldn't be any more different.

McPherson took the stylish path, redshirting as a Syracuse freshman in 2005. He was originally recruited by Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone -- then Pasqualoni's top assistant, now the Owls offensive coordinator.

There couldn't have been a more perfect match. Twenty years ago, with a coach named (Dick) MacPherson and a quarterback named (Don) McPherson, the Orangemen made a run at the National Championship.

However, by the time Lamar McPherson arrived on campus, Pasqualoni and DeLeone were gone, replaced by Coach Greg Robinson.

One year later, McPherson was gone. At the time of his departure, the newspapers in Syracuse reported that he was leaving because he wanted a chance to play running back.

"At Syracuse I played safety and running back. But I just love playing football," McPherson explained. "The main thing was -- you know, Coach Pasqualoni and Coach DeLeone brought me in -- I'm like a throwback. I just love playing football, whether it's running back, whatever. I went all-state at linebacker in high school. I'm an athlete. And when I got up there, the coach moved me to safety. And it was all right. But he was more of a West Coast-style coach, and it was more finesse. And my game is not really finesse."

Picking a new school was easy.

"I knew that Coach DeLeone came here, and I know Coach Al Golden coming from Virginia, I know he went to Penn State, and their style is cut from the same cloth that I'm cut from," McPherson said. "They like tough, blue collar, you know how Philly football is, with the Eagles and all that."

McPherson only wishes he had gotten to Temple one year sooner.

"Coming out of McDevitt I was a three-star (prospect)," he said. "And the coach, Bobby Wallace, he never went after me, because I guess he thought he would never have a shot at me. But now with Coach Golden and the Golden Era, he'll go after anybody. If you don't want to come here, well maybe you're not tough enough."

While McPherson wishes that Temple had recruited him, his cousin, McDonnaugh-Hales, simply wishes that anybody had recruited him.

"I've got a chip on my shoulder. I've got a lot to prove" McDonnaugh-Hales said. "I was never really recruited. I've always been under the radar. I was never recruited, never had an offer. I went to junior college, still under the radar, played at junior college, had a good career, still didn't get recruited. And now I'm here. I've got a chip on my shoulder."

McDonnaugh-Hales' lack of recruiting interest wasn't from a lack of trying.

At Germantown, he was a second team all-Philly pick in 2002. He played in the City All-Star Game in 2004. But he was ultimately done in by the numbers game.

In 2003, McDonnaugh-Hales attended the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio. Of the 21 linebackers at the camp, McDonnaugh-Hales posted the worst time in the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard dash, the 10-yard dash, even the three-cone shuttle drill. His best finish came when they tested his vertical jump -- he did better than two others.

So McDonnaugh-Hales had no scholarship offers when he graduated from Germantown.

He sat on the sidelines in 2004, then found his way to Lackawanna, where he played a year at fullback. Then he came home and took classes at Philadelphia Community College.

Last summer, he talked to his cousin, who told him that he was transferring from Syracuse to Temple.

"Lamar, that's my family," McDonnaugh-Hales said. "So Lamar told me to come on. They like people that play like me.

"I played a year at Lackawanna, and I sat out a year and got my degree, so I would have three years to play on the college level. I knew I was going to walk on here. I knew I was coming here, basically, if I was going to come here because they were going to offer me or I was going to walk on. I took 24 credits in the fall so I could come here in the spring."

Everything since then has worked out fine.

"Yeah, who's that," Golden laughed after McDonnaugh-Hales registered four tackles, a sack, and a blocked field goal in the Cherry and White Game. "Here's a kid who loves Philadelphia. He loves Temple. He loves football. So he's been one of the surprises of the spring."

McPherson's success wasn't a surprise, not with his list of high school accolades. It was more a question of where he would make an impact.

"I asked the coach, ‘Can I play running back?' But he was bringing in a running back," McPherson said of his initial meeting with Golden. "It didn't matter what I really played. I just wanted somebody that could respect my style. Every day was good at Syracuse, but it's like my style is more needed here.

"So I played running back (last fall), and then I always said to Coach Golden in meetings -- he just wanted people just flying around, smacking -- so I went up to him and was like, ‘You want somebody who can lay the wood? It doesn't matter what I play, as long as it benefits the team.' And he moved me to safety."

McPherson was selected by the defensive coaches as the top scout team performer last fall. Then came the switch to linebacker.

"One practice I was on scout team at a rover kind of position, and I started laying the wood on linemen," said McPherson, who had eight tackles and a sack in the Cherry and White Game. "So [Golden] was like, ‘Get your weight up and we'll put you at linebacker.' And I'm all for it."

McPherson and McDonnaugh-Hales have a lot of things in common, even beyond their biographies. For one thing, both of them are, well, short.

McPherson is listed at 5-10. He's not. McDonnaugh-Hales is listed at 5-11. Not quite. At this point, they're not going to get any taller. In McPherson's case, the real issue is getting bigger.

"I'm about 205," he said at the conclusion of spring drills. "By the time the season starts I'll be 215."

Otherwise, the adjustment to playing linebacker hasn't been that difficult.

"No real problems," McPherson said. "Just be physical all the time and just fly to the ball, hawk the ball. I've got to learn how to use my hands better. Because I'm used to filling alleys at safety. But at my size I've got to be more of a technician. Because when the linemen get their hands on you, it can be hard."

McDonnaugh-Hales plays in the middle. He may not have the straight-ahead speed that draws interest in a camp setting, but he moves well laterally and has good instincts.

"He's got to get in his playbook a little bit better, learn the defense," Golden assessed. "But he's a physical player who can make plays and is instinctive at inside linebacker. So I don't think we've heard the last of him yet."

The competition will get tougher when the Owls open preseason camp. Golden has a few more recruits coming in, and Haley and Holt might be back.

Without a doubt, McPherson and McDonnaugh-Hales will have to earn their starting jobs once again.

"The coaches will tell you, they don't discriminate," McDonnaugh-Hales said. "They're going to play the best. Really, I want to win. So if I have to share time with somebody it wouldn't bother me, it wouldn't bother me at all. I just want to win.

"I'm just working hard. It's going to be a fight from here on out. We all really complement each other. But really, I want to play."

He won't apologize for that, either.

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