IOWA CITY – Mike Donovan loves football.
The sport is his favorite, and a good reason he rarely came off the field and helped Iowa City Regina win its third straight state title.
The senior linebacker’s biggest contribution came on defense, leading the Regals in tackles, interceptions and fumble recoveries in his first season as a starter. The achievements earned him The Gazette-KCRG Defensive Player of the Year award.
“I did everything I could to help the team all season,” Donovan said. “It meant a lot to me.”
He contributed to the Regals Class 1A state title, adding to the 2010 and 2011 2A crowns, and their 42-game win streak. Regina only lost two games in his four seasons. Donovan did just about everything, rushing and receiving the ball as running back, stopping the opposition at linebacker, returning kicks and even an occasional punt.
“To me, he’s the prototypical football player,” Regina Coach Marv Cook said. “If you say I want to put together the perfect football player, the attitude, effort, commitment, sacrifice, versatility, a total package in being a teammate (and) a leader, it’s Mike Donovan.”
The passion for tackle football began in his first season in fifth grade. Donovan did not come off the field often, and preferred that being the case so he could produce for his team.
“There’s nothing better than being on the field,” Donovan said. “It’s hard to stand on the sideline when you’re at a game.”
A competitive nature is accompanied by an unselfish approach. Donovan was team-first, and would do whatever it took to help the Regals win. Cook said he has a quiet demeanor, but when he spoke up it usually was something that made his teammates better.
“He’s the guy that would be just as happy being the lead blocker every single snap as opposed to getting 25 carries in a game,” Cook said. “As long as he felt he was helping the team, he would be more than happy to do that.”
Donovan, who has not decided on a college and if he will continue his football career, had a nose for the ball. He tallied 98 tackles, including 41 solo stops, four solo tackles for loss and three sacks. Donovan had a team-high four interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The latter ranked among the best in 1A this season.
Regina (14-0) had three shutouts, and allowed less than 18 points in all but three games. Opponents averaged a little more than 10 points per game.
“We were taught to do our part and not worry about the guy next to us,” Donovan said about the Regina defense. “We trust that he will do his job and focus on what you have to do and be fundamentally sound.
“You do your part and everything worked out. It went like that all season.”
Defense is special to him, despite 967 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns, and four kickoff returns for 122 (30.5-yard average).
“I like defense the best,” Donovan said. “Scoring touchdowns is fun, but when you get stops I feel like you’ve done more for your team if you can hold them on defense.”
A defining moment this season came in the biggest game. In Regina’s 35-14 win over Council Bluffs Saint Albert in the title game, Donovan scored opened and capped the Regals’ scores with 1-yard TD runs and rushed for 22 yards on nine carries. More impressive, he had 125 receiving yards on seven catches, had six total tackles and an interception, which he returned for 13 yards and set up a score. He also added a 16-yard kickoff return.
“It was just the most complete game I’ve seen in a long time,” Cook said. “Just catching, running, tackling, blocking, the whole nine yards. To me, it was about as perfect of a game you could get out of an H-back in our offense.”
Donovan said he was motivated by the opportunity ahead of him and the rest of this year’s seniors. They were determined to work hard in the offseason and make the most out of their chance to continue the Regals success.
“I knew I was going to be a starter so I did everything I could to benefit the team in the offseason,” Donovan said. “All of us seniors, that was our goal. We just wanted to make sure we could lead the team to the state championship again.”
Cook praised Donovan for his personality off the field, calling him a “polite” and “soft-spoken” well-rounded citizen. He will be missed by Cook in and out of practice and games.
“Ultimately, he’s just a great young man,” Cook said. “He’s a coach’s joy. If you can have one of these guys, you’re fortunate. It’s been fun.”