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Donnal brothers had tall expectations from the beginning

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Allen Park— Andrew Donnal remembers the last time he wanted to feel bigger than his little brother.

Posing for team pictures as a senior with the Anthony Wayne High School basketball team in Monclova, Ohio, Donnal said he stood on tip-toes next to his freshman brother to skew the historical record a little.

“That’s the last time I think I was officially taller than my brother,” said Donnal, who at 6-foot-6 still is no slouch there. “But in the little time we got to play together, it was really fun. We competed against each other our whole lives, the driveway or whatever … who can eat the most at dinner. But when we’re playing together, trying to accomplish the same goal, that’s even more fun for me.”

His brother, Mark, has added a few inches to his height since then, but the siblings have grown to be part of major sports environments: Andrew as an offensive tackle for the Lions, and Mark as a former Michigan basketball starter and now an intern for a powerful sports agency.

The brothers both credited their home environments for the nurturing of stellar athletic careers.

Their parents, Ron and Susie, provided great genes: Ron, a 6-foot-5 former high-school basketball and track athlete; Susie, a 5-10 former volleyball player at Bowling Green State.

Buckeyes fans growing up, Andrew went to Iowa, where he was honorable mention All-Big Ten and was drafted in the fourth round in 2015 by the St. Louis Rams. After two seasons, he was released by the Rams last year and then picked up by Baltimore, where he played six games.

Looking for a home after being a cut-down day casualty prior to this season, Donnal looked to the same area in which his brother became a name in the Michigan sports scene, filling a big role as John Beilein’s Wolverines ascended to their current lofty heights.

A typical Beilein post recruit with shooting and skills, Mark Donnal started 25 games as a sophomore in Ann Arbor, averaging 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds for a 23-13 team.

In Donnal’s third and final season with Michigan, the Wolverines advanced to the Sweet 16 after a surprise run to the Big Ten Tournament championship following the harrowing plane mishap at Willow Run Airport.

For his senior year, Donnal took a graduate transfer to Clemson, averaging 3.7 points and 1.6 rebounds, and returning to the Sweet 16 with the Tigers.

“They haven’t been a winning program in the past and coach (Brad) Brownell has done a great job kind of chasing the culture,” Mark Donnal said last week from Los Angeles. “It was awesome. It was a great group of guys that made it to the Sweet 16.”

This summer, Donnal entertained opportunities of playing overseas on the island of Malta, in addition to overtures from pro teams in Italy and France.

Instead, the 6-9 forward is starting his post-playing career out west as an intern at the Athletes First sports agency, which represents Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as well as coaches Urban Meyer of Ohio State and Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

“I think he’s liking being on the other side, starting a new chapter,” Andrew Donnal said. “You do so much with our respective sports, it’s good to get away and find something else and find joy in it.”

Before starting his career in Tinseltown, Mark Donnal was able to meet Andrew on his home turf, going to Canada for the annual summer family hunting and fishing trip that Mark missed many times over the years for basketball.

The brothers haven’t yet formed a business relationship, as Mark hasn’t lured a client in Andrew, who is on Detroit’s 53-man roster, but has been inactive in each of the eight games this season.

“That’s not something we really talk about,” Mark Donnal said.  “We try to not talk about sports, more about our lives, what games we are playing on Xbox, that kinds of stuff.”

The Lions claimed Donnal from Baltimore and kept him the first month of the season before cutting him for and then picking him up again four days later.

As an agent in training, Mark Donnal looks to his brother as a guy in demand by teams as evidenced by continued cameos on rosters.

The younger brother said while studying NFL players, he has noticed the rarity of fourth-round picks making it this long in the league. It’s one reason he’s still able to look up to Andrew, despite the new height dynamic.

“I think it says a lot about his character; teams like having him in the locker room,” Mark Donnal said. “To have the chance of being able to play in the highest level, I couldn’t be more proud of him.

“If he stays healthy and keeps his mind right, everything will take care of itself.”

As the Lions suddenly face turmoil with an offensive line that allowed 10 sacks on Sunday, perhaps the older brother could get a Sunday chance soon.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time and doing whatever the team asks of me. I’m doing it to the best of my ability,” Donnal said. “I’m a guy that’s going to come in and help out wherever I can.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.

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