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Returning to Coliseum is 'surreal' for former USC and Rams safety T.J. McDonald

Returning to Coliseum is 'surreal' for former USC and Rams safety T.J. McDonald
Rams safety T.J. McDonald forces Ravens running back Javorius Allenout of bounds after a receptions during a game Nov. 22. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

In early 2013, as part of his training before the NFL draft, former USC safety T.J. McDonald sweated through thigh-burning workouts up and down the aisle stairs inside the Coliseum.

One day, as he and a former Trojans teammate finished a final set, they gazed out over the city of Los Angeles and reflected.

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"I remember getting to the top step and thinking about the memories I made," McDonald, a safety who was selected by the St. Louis Rams, said Wednesday. "Now that we're coming back to play there, it's just surreal."

The NFL on Tuesday approved the Rams' move back to Los Angeles. The team is scheduled to move into a new Inglewood stadium for the 2019 season.

In the interim, they will probably play in the Coliseum, where McDonald starred for the Trojans, just as his father Tim did before a successful NFL career.

T.J. McDonald is feeling bittersweet. The Fresno native is excited about returning to California where family and friends can watch him play. But he is saddened to leave St. Louis.

"I am very appreciative of the support I got," he said in a phone interview. "They welcomed me as rookie and they are great fans. They stick with you as you struggled through the tough times."

McDonald played at USC from 2009 to 2012. He was one of the team leaders and faces of the program as the Trojans navigated through the first two years of NCAA sanctions.

"We went through a lot of stuff," he said.

Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the impact an NFL team will have on the Coliseum and USC.

The Rams drafted McDonald in the third round in 2013. He started as a rookie but suffered a broken leg. McDonald had 63 tackles, a sack and forced a fumble this season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He recently underwent surgery, but said he would be ready for the 2016 season.

"I started every year I've been in the league and I feel like I've gotten better," he said, adding, "Next year, I'll be healthy for the first time in a while and really can represent how I'm in great shape. People will hear my name."

Rams Coach Jeff Fisher also played defensive back at USC. And the Rams' roster includes former UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers and tight end Cory Harkey.

Now they are set to return to Southern California.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said Wednesday that he had not yet spoken with McDonald or Fisher.

McDonald thought back to his pre-draft workouts and the games he played in the Coliseum.

How will it feel to come down the famous tunnel once again?

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"I can't even put it into words," he said.

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Twitter: @latimesklein

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