McDONALD - It used to drive Cameron Ifft nuts that he couldn't play pee-wee football as a kid.
His dad was a varsity football coach in the area for more than 20 years, so Ifft was surrounded by the sport, but his father, Bill, didn't like the idea of young children playing football, so Cameron had to wait. As painful as that was, the wait appears to have paid off.
"I kept telling my dad when I was little, 'You better let me play because I'm going to hit people,' " Cameron said. "And he said, 'We're going to find out when you get older.' And by the time I got to junior high and varsity, I was just so excited to finally get to hit people."
He's been knocking them down ever since.
Ifft enters his senior year at McDonald a four-year starter, and he earned that distinction by showing he wasn't afraid to hit as a gangly freshman.
"We do an Oklahoma drill, but we call it Billy Goat," said McDonald coach Dan Williams of a hitting drill in which a running back and a defender often go head-to-head. "We got this kid in there whacking guys. He wasn't afraid to jump in, and he's hitting seniors, juniors, and we said, 'This kid's gotta get on the field somewhere.'
"He was the kind of kid that you knew right out of the gate that he was a physical kid."
Ifft started off on special teams as a freshman, but he continued to impress the coaching staff so much that he ended up starting at linebacker. When an injury occurred on offense, he took over at wide receiver. Ifft, who was about 6 feet, 140 pounds as a freshman, said he started to gain confidence after a game against Sebring.
"They had this senior, and he had been starting there for a long time - I think he plays at Akron now," Ifft recalled. "I was 14. This kid was 17 or 18 and he was like 6-4, 215, and he played a lot of football in his time. And he whacked me one time, and I went into the locker room during halftime, and the coaches were telling us, 'You can't do that. We expect more from you.' And I went out in the second half and had still to this day one of the biggest hits of my career."
Ifft said he was playing receiver and peeled back after a teammate caught a pass and pancaked a kid.
"That fired me up," he said.
The fire remains lit.
Ifft ran for 516 yards and six touchdowns on 81 attempts as a junior. He also made 56 tackles (five for loss) and one sack on defense. His role will expand even more as a senior, especially after the type of effort he's put in during the offseason. The once lanky Ifft is now a solid 6-4, 220 pounds who bench presses 300 pounds, squats 400 and cleans 265. Ifft said he's received looks from Indiana and Michigan along with several Mid-American Conference schools.
Williams said his physical growth is evident to more than just colleges.
"(His teammates) see what he's done," he said. "He went from a little freshman to a 220-pound senior. The kids recognize that, and it's come from the hard work and dedication in the offseason."
He moved to outside linebacker after McDonald tweaked its defense, and he plays at 'Z' receiver, which is used as both a running back and a receiver in the Wing-T offense of the Blue Devils. His hitting can pump up the defense, while his versatility as a pass-catcher and a running back can create matchup problems on offense, but his years of experience might be his most valuable asset for a McDonald team with high expectations.
"I've seen just about every situation," he said. "I've been in games when we're winning by 50. I've been in games where we were down by 50, and I've also been in games where we're fighting back and forth. I've just seen it all, and so have some of the other kids, so I think we're just ready to go now."