EMPORIA (KSNT) – ESU football All-American Jace McDown is staying in Emporia.

McDown is the Hornets’ new linebackers coach, joining the staff that turned him into an All-American.

“I knew all along that I was going to offer him the job,” head coach Garin Higgins said.

It might be thanks to the COVID-19 season. A year of extra eligibility kept McDown in Emporia when then-linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Nathan Linsey announced he was leaving coaching.

“That extra sixth year I had just made me fall in love with football more than I had ever really thought I did,” McDown said.

But McDown was already set to be a grad assistant at North Dakota State. It didn’t take much to convince him to come back to Emporia. After all, Welch Stadium had been his home since 2017.

“Even though he was a GA at North Dakota State, I was going to steal him,” Higgins said.

“Coaching at Emporia State’s an awesome opportunity,” McDown said. “It didn’t take a second to convince me to come back.”

It’s actually not a big adjustment for McDown to go from a player to a coach.

“By my last few years, I was sitting in on staff meetings and things like that,” he said. “So, not a huge adjustment. Just having to correct the guys when they call me Jace is probably the biggest adjustment.”

However, it is different watching the game from the sideline, especially when he’s used to being the one leading the conference in tackles.

“At practice, at least I can stand right behind the play, like 15 yards behind the play and see it like I did as a player,” McDown said. “During the spring game, having to stand on the sideline was very different. I felt powerless almost.”

This also means Garin Higgins is his boss now, instead of just his coach.

“When he recruited me in 2016 to right now, he’s the same person,” McDown said. “He’s going to wear his heart on his sleeve. He’s going to get fiery when there’s times to get fiery on the field, but he’s going to love you up in the locker room when it’s time to love you up. That’s kind of how he is. He cares a lot about Emporia State, and he cares a lot about his players and his coaches.”

Emporia State has had an all-conference linebacker every year since 2012. McDown looks forward to continuing the tradition.

“I think my room’s one of the best linebacker rooms in the country,” he said. “I think they’re awesome on the field, but just going to the meeting room with them is awesome every day. They make it a blast. We get work done, but they also make it a good time.”