NASHVILLE – Quarterback Cole McDonald has spent a good part of his life idolizing Hawaii native Marcus Mariota.
Now, he's headed to Nashville to compete for a roster spot on Mariota's former team.
The Titans on Saturday selected the former University of Hawaii quarterback in the seventh round (224th overall) of the NFL Draft.
"Playing in Hawaii, I mean Marcus is the man. And when I say the man, he is the man," McDonald said of Mariota, who played five seasons with the Titans. "Even before I knew I was going to play for Hawaii or anything, I idolized Marcus, his style of play and how he approached the game and what he brought to it.
"Moving forward, hopefully I get some love from Hawaii and even though Marcus was there before me, (hopefully) I can fill those big shoes he left behind. To come to a place he just left, it's pretty cool."
McDonald said he's met Mariota, now with the Raiders, several times and watched film with him. Mariota has given him advice over the years, he said.
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound McDonald finished his career at Hawaii fourth on the school's passing yards (8,032) and passing touchdowns (70) lists. McDonald, who is from La Mirada, California, completed 61 percent of his throws at Hawaii.
In 2019, McDonald completed 63.8 percent of his attempts for 4,135 yards and 33 touchdowns.
He ranked No. 3 nationally in passing yards, No. 6 in total offense (322.7/gm), No. 7 in passing yards per game (295,4), No. 8 in passing TDs, and No. 9 in points responsible for (242). McDonald threw for a career high 493 yards and accounted for five touchdowns – four passing and one rushing - in UH's SoFi Hawai'i Bowl win over BYU.
But he knows he needs to improve to have a chance of sticking at the next level.
McDonald will compete with returning quarterback Logan Woodside for the back-up spot behind starter Ryan Tannehill.
Woodside started last year's preseason finale against the Bears and played the entire game. He finished the night completing 17-of-29 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 104.4.
In four preseason contests in 2019, Woodside completed 46-of-76 passes for 539 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was an impressive 99.6.
"We're not going to set the roster to 55 today, on the third day of the draft," Titans General Manager Jon Robinson replied when asked if the team might add yet another QB to compete at some point. "But (McDonald) is a guy that has good size, really good athleticism. He ran fast, he moves around, has really good arm strength. We spent quite a bit of time with him in the process getting to know him a little bit and developed a good relationship with him. We felt like from a tools standpoint he was a guy we'd like to work with."
McDonald said he's ready to compete, and he wants to learn from Tannehill, the quarterback who replaced Mariota as the franchise's starter.
"I've only heard great things about Ryan, how great of a person he is, how great of a leader he is," McDonald said of Tannehill. "And ultimately, he wins games, like you saw last year. To be under him, it is going to be an awesome learning experience – I am going to be asking a lot of questions, picking his brain, taking a lot of mental reps behind him and ultimately just trying to get prepared as much as I can to be ready when my name is called.
"I am super-stoked to be a part of the team, to be a part of the organization. And I want to help in any way I can."
McDonald said he talked with Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith and quarterbacks coach Pat O'Hara a few times on Facetime during the pre-draft process, and he felt the conversations were solid.
He's looking forward to heading to Nashville as soon as the NFL's offseason restrictions due to the coronavirus are lifted.
"I have never been to Nashville, Tennessee, but from what I have heard from everybody, I hear it's just a wonderful place, with great people, and the environment is amazing," McDonald said. "I can't tell you how excited I am to meet everybody and be a part of that culture."
The Titans select Hawaii QB Cole McDonald in seventh round (224th overall) of 2020 NFL Draft. (AP Photos)