Nick McDonald Thought He’d Watch Colts Game With Friends in Stands, Wound Up Starting at Center for Patriots

FOXBORO, Mass. — About a month ago, Patriots offensive lineman Nick McDonald got four extra tickets for his friends to visit from out of town and attend Sunday's game against the Colts at Gillette Stadium.

"They thought I was going to be sitting with them in the stands," McDonald said Sunday with a laugh.

As it turned out, McDonald had a better view of the action, and his friends had someone to root for. McDonald, who was promoted from the team's practice squad Saturday, made his first career start and played in his first NFL game during Sunday's 31-24 victory. It seemed to come together in the most unpredictable fashion.

McDonald, a tackle at Grand Valley State, spent his entire rookie season in 2010 with the Packers, but he was inactive for all 16 regular-season and four postseason games. Green Bay released him in September, and he joined the Patriots' practice squad in Week 1, where he remained until Saturday, when offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia told McDonald he would make his first career start.

McDonald had a chance to call some of his family, and he told his girlfriend and four of his friends that he'd be sitting elsewhere during the game.

"The view downstairs is awesome," McDonald said. "It's great."

McDonald, who played center for the Packers in the preseason, became the fourth Patriot to start at the position in 12 games this season. Dan Koppen went on injured reserve after going down in the season opener, and Dan Connolly has missed two games with a groin injury. Ryan Wendell started two weeks ago against the Eagles but apparently fell out of favor with Bill Belichick this week.

Wendell's backup in that Eagles game was presumed to be backup offensive lineman Donald Thomas, who is a guard by trade, but McDonald leapfrogged Thomas on the depth chart over the last week and earned some glowing reviews from his teammates after the game.

"Nick did really well," right guard Brian Waters said. "He really did. He stepped up big time this week. He didn't truly know what was going to happen or not, but he did really well. He stepped up big time, and you know what, who knows what the future is going to hold? But he's done a great job all season of making sure he knows what's going on."

It's too early to know if McDonald will wrestle the starting job away from Connolly, but the immediate impression was that McDonald played well enough to open some eyes. Not a bad way to make an NFL debut, especially with his friends there to see it happen.

"It's great," McDonald said. "It's every kid's dream to start in the NFL. I got to do that. Obviously, there's a lot of things I've got to do better to help this team be successful."

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