Mike McDonald checked his phone Wednesday morning and chuckled at the inquiry directed at him. 

“The big question of the week,” read the message on the group text he shares with 50 or so friends, including many who played football at Arkansas State like he did. “Is Mike McDonald wearing an ASU shirt to the Washington game or an A-State jersey?” 

“Gentlemen, I always root for the Red and Black,” wrote McDonald, who played four years (1990-93) at defensive tackle for Arkansas State. “But I will definitely be wearing No. 41’s jersey for sure.” 

No. 41 is UW freshman outside linebacker Cooper McDonald, a first-year starter who has five tackles this season and has the Huskies’ only sack. 

“I can’t think of too many people who would say that Washington-Arkansas State is a big game, but for me, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime game,” Mike McDonald said. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it and, I got to say, I’m already getting a little nervous.” 

Aside from Mike and Cooper McDonald, you’d be hard-pressed to find any connection between Washington (0-2) and Arkansas State (1-1), which meet for the first time 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium.  

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The Red Wolves of the Sun Belt Conference have never played a Pac-12 team, and UW has never played any team from Arkansas. 

For Mike McDonald, his rooting allegiance was always going to be family over football. That’s how he and his wife, Jill, an All-American volleyball player at West Texas State, raised their three boys in Haslet, Texas. 

All three of the McDonald boys were standout outside linebackers at Northwest High who went on to play in college. 

Colton, 26, spent four years at North Texas; Caden, 23, is a senior at San Diego State, where he was named to the preseason All-Mountain West team and is the top-rated linebacker in the conference. 

And then there’s Cooper, who is making the most of an unexpected opportunity to start after star pass rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui ruptured an Achilles tendon in April. 

“We’re more of a defensive minded group over here at the McDonald house,” Mike said laughing. “They’re all talented kids, and they could have played wherever they wanted to. Coop could have been a heckuva QB at one time. With our mentality and mindset, we’d rather chase you down than anything else.” 

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Cooper followed in his brother’s footsteps at Northwest High and was one of the most productive players in the state who registered 117 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and three defensive touchdowns while leading the Texans to the 2019 state playoffs. 

“The best thing about him was his work ethic and his passion for the game,” Northwest High coach Bill Poe said. “I never had a young man like him that played with the passion that he does and gave the effort that did on every single play. He was just a guy that we knew we could count on day in and day out. You knew he would show up day on time, work extremely hard and be a great leader and a great example for the rest of our kids in our program. 

“Internally for (Cooper), it was probably a competition for him. He emulated his brothers, but he wanted to outperform what his brothers did. He wanted to make his own mark, and he certainly did that here.” 

Daily competition — whether it was playing football or doing chores around the house — was a way of life for the McDonald boys while growing up. 

“That’s just the way it was,” Mike McDonald said. “They wanted to make themselves better. (Cooper) knew so much by being blessed to be there with his older brother and middle brother. By the time he gets there, it’s like tying my shoe. It’s a gift to be able to have those in front of you so you can watch it and know what to expect. When you know to expect, you can get out there and turn it loose and just enjoy yourself. It was awesome at the house. 

“It was definitely a competitive deal growing up, but he handled it very well. He thrives on competition. That’s what he does best. When you tell him somebody is pushing you, that’s what he likes to hear.” 

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Cooper received offers from Baylor, Colorado and Utah, but chose Washington because “you see all of the current Dawgs who are in the NFL right now, that’s my goal to get to the next level. I believe in this coaching staff that they can do that.” 

According to Cooper, Arkansas State did not offer him a scholarship, which is added motivation for Saturday to “put the smack on them.” 

However, Mike set the record straight and said the Red Wolves didn’t recruit Caden, but did indeed extend a scholarship offer to Cooper. 

“We told them, you don’t have to go to school around here, be around your parents,” Mike said. “You can go where you feel fit. Seattle is where he felt the best fit. Coach (Chris Petersen) was an awesome chess piece in this whole deal. Yeah, we were a little upper cut when he decided to leave, but it didn’t sway us any because we really liked the staff and the professionalism that they displayed. 

“But I tell you what, I lost all of my helpers once Coop left. We have 4 acres of grass that we cut here in Texas. Now, all my weed eaters and all of my lawn cutters, they’re all gone. So I’m back out here trying to get it all done.” 

Mike and Jill, who traveled Sept. 4 to San Diego to watch Caden play against New Mexico State and made the trip to Michigan last week for UW’s game, haven’t yet finalized plans for this week. 

“When you have two boys playing football in different places, it can be a lot trying to get to their games and seeing as much as possible,” Mike said. “As soon as this (UW-Arkansas State) game was announced, I knew I’d get some ribbing from my buddies.  

“But there’s no doubt who I’m rooting for. I loved my days in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and proud of what we accomplished, but I’m the biggest supporter in the world for my son.”

Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.