ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Safety T.J. McDonald's football career, to this point, has been about following in his father's footsteps.
McDonald's father, Tim, was a two-time All-American safety at USC, where he was named team MVP his final two seasons and helped the Trojans to a 1985 Rose Bowl victory.
T.J., which stands for Tim, Jr., earned All-America honors as a USC Trojan as well.
"I was born into this game," McDonald said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "It gets me excited to know not only do I have someone who has done it, but someone who has done it at the highest level."
And from an early age, McDonald's father had a big impact in his progress in the game of football.
Tim, Sr. was T.J.'s high school coach at Edison High in Fresno, Calif.
"First, it was kind of tough -- I had to start calling him 'Coach' every once in a while," McDonald said. "It was a different type of relationship. After a while, I understood what he was doing. I thanked him for being hard on me the way he was and preparing me for this time now. I can look back on it and says that's why he was doing it, and I definitely appreciate it."
After USC, Tim, Sr. went on to play 13 years in the NFL as a Pro Bowler with the Cardinals and 49ers, winning a Super Bowl with San Francisco in 1994.
In preparing for the next step, T.J. said he has watched plenty of tape on his father, who he called "a very physical player" who was "always around the ball."
At USC, T.J. was around the ball often as well. In his career, he racked up 275 tackles, eight interceptions and three blocked kicks.
He said he feels comfortable at both safety positions and wants to take his versatility, physicality and leadership to a team at the next level.
"Coming in, I just want to be relentless to the ball at all times – try to go get the ball, be a physical player, be a smart player, make sure I'm always being a student of the game, be a leader on my team, come in and establish myself by working, putting it on tape, not with my words, just put it on tape and get respect that way," he said. "You want to be relentless and don't let people stop you from getting to the ball."
As he prepares for April's NFL Draft, McDonald has his mind set on living up to the family name.
"He's been preparing me for this for a long time," he said of his father. "He wasn't preparing me to be a high school player or a college player, he was trying to teach me how to be a pro from a young age. The relationship I have with him has pushed me to the point where I am now. I know I have a responsibility to him, to myself, to my family to be able to go for it all, not to just step my foot in this league but to be able to go for a career."