Jonathan Donville came into the 2022-23 NLL Regular Season as a rookie with no expectations. By the end of his first year in the league, the 1st overall pick in the 2021 NLL Entry Draft had posted some of the best offensive numbers in league history.
It is no secret that Donville has been one of the most talented and effective players in lacrosse for quite some time. Whether with the OJLL’s Mimico Mountaineers or Orangeville Northmen, at NCAA DI Maryland University or Cornell University, or now with Panther City Lacrosse Club in the NLL, Jonathan Donville is an offensive juggernaut.
During the NLL’s last regular season, Donville posted 90 points (23 goals and 67 assists). His 90 points were the 4th-most by a rookie in NLL history, and his 67 assists were the 2nd-most by any player in his inaugural season in the NLL – the 67 assists were also the 9th-most by any player in the league last year. His efforts earned him NLL Rookie of the Year.
The 25-year-old Oakville, Ontario native was able to reach such levels of success because he could block out all unnecessary information and just focus on the game he loves to play. With the support of his family and friends behind him, Donville kept his eye on the prize and focused solely on the controllables in his life and doing what he does best: play lacrosse.
“I learned a long time ago that I’m not someone that is fueled by doubters,” Donville said. “I’m fueled by the ones that believe in me, like my family and people like that. I love playing the game, and I play my best when I’m playing happy and with joy, so I don’t worry too much about expectations or living up to something. It was about trying to make people proud of me who support me, and it doesn’t matter how I play.”
Donville has been a leader on and off the floor for a handful of years now, so this wasn’t his first rodeo, but as almost all NLL rookies will tell you, no matter what status you had before entering the pros, no matter how high you were on the pecking order, coming into the league a rookie and fitting in right away is not an easy task.
Relying on the veterans on the roster can go a long way to easing the transition to the next level. The pro level is the first time that many newcomers to the NLL are going up against competition that is noticeably, and sometimes significantly, older and more experienced.
For Donville, playing alongside guys like veteran right-hander Phil Caputo and, later in the season, Callum Crawford, as well, was valuable. It also helped him bring up his stats. Nearly two dozen of Donville’s assists were to either Caputo or Crawford. Even some of the team’s younger stars were great sources of success. There were also older teammates on the other side of the ball who were helpful to the younger rookie. Donville credits Tyler Burton for helping him navigate the ups and downs of postseason play.
No one connected with Donville on the floor more than Will Malcom. Donville was the right piece to this Panther City puzzle, and his season’s worth of impressive showings helped drive PCLC to their first playoff berth in team history.
“I think that rising tides lift the ships, offensively speaking,” Donville said. “Will [Malcom] was having a big year, Callum [Crawford] was having a big year, and a lot of other guys were playing really well. I learned a lot from Callum, and there are things that he can do athletically that I can’t do. I had to learn what I could steal and what I couldn’t steal. But, off the floor especially, he’s a great mentor for me as a player and for becoming a professional lacrosse player.”
Donville’s success on the floor is as much a byproduct of his relationship and cohesion with his teammates as it is a byproduct of his strong (and still budding) relationship with his coaches. “Kyle Goundrey, our offensive coordinator, is just super steady and positive, especially with me, I feel,” Donville said. “I just knew he was always in my corner. And then ‘TK,’ Tracy Kelusky, our Head Coach – I’ve learned so much from him, and we chat all the time about different lacrosse things. Both of those guys were great at picking me up because I can get a little bit down on myself.”
Growth is a natural part of life and is necessary if you’re a young professional in any competitive sport. Having that support system around him was so helpful. Many members of PCLC were helping Donville be his best self, but one of his biggest supporters was himself.
Donville, who began working for Panther City as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator in the middle of this past NLL season, began to chronicle his rookie journey for his peace of mind and to help the rest of the world know what it’s like to be a rookie in the NLL. You see, Donville isn’t just a world-class athlete; he also aspires to work in the world of sports in sports journalism, media relations, or communications.
His rookie journalings can be found on the team website and provides great insight not only into the mind of a skilled, hardworking rookie of the NLL but also the fun and quirky stories that take place behind-the-scenes away from game time.
“I think it will be cool when my time is done in this league (which is hopefully a while from now) that I can look back at those and see where my mind was at as a 25-year-old,” Donville said. “Time goes faster than you think. When I look back at being a freshman in college (which seems like forever ago), I thought I had everything figured out. I think those will just get cooler as my career goes on.”
Donville’s journey in the NLL is just beginning, and he was kind enough and confident enough to let the lacrosse world into the goings-on of his life through his rookie season with Panther City. Heading into year two, Donville is poised to continue creating an exciting and positive storyline by following his heart and staying true to his principles. If he keeps doing what he did in his rookie year, we’ll hear a lot more about Jonathan Donville in the years to come.
By Adam Levi