Wrestling legacy becomes Indiana football walk-on

Declan McMahon remembers one of the first times he felt adrenaline pumping through a massive stadium.

It was Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas as he walked into AT&T Stadium with his father. He heard the jeers and the boos – and even cheers – and it immediately became a life moment not easily forgotten.

This was no ordinary night, or ordinary event or ordinary family.

The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Poly Prep recruit’s father is Shane McMahon and his grandfather is WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon. All that vitriol spewed at Wrestlemania was because his father was about to engage in a Hell in the Cell wrestling match against The Undertaker.

That night, Shane McMahon jumped off the top of the metal cell in an attempt to land on Undertaker – and essentially end the match – but he missed and slammed through a table instead. There was a stretcher – show or no show – and Declan McMahon remembers the scene well.

“For the love of mankind,” the WWE announcer said when McMahon missed. “Shane just exploded through a table.”

“It was willingly,” Declan McMahon said. “That’s even crazier.”


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All this is to say, Indiana is getting a top-level football player and a special person, since McMahon decided in recent days to accept a preferred walk-on spot with the Hoosiers.

And all this is to say McMahon sees himself as an underdog player going to an underdog team in a conference filled with Undertakers like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and others ready to bury you.

The Poly Prep prospect who played quarterback, running back and wherever else his team needed him is excited for the opportunity. Not many have this chance, and McMahon isn’t going to let it slip away.

“Growing up in a wrestling family, one of my greatest memories was I walked out in AT&T Stadium with my father one time and the adrenaline rush I got when my dad was wrestling in a stadium where everybody is screaming against you,” McMahon said. “It’s nice to be the villain and it’s nice to go in there and get a win. It’s going to be a crazy experience.”

McMahon is a rare football prospect because of his family name and its spotlight in the sports entertainment industry, but in many ways the Poly Prep recruit is just like any other kid in the 2022 class.

He was looking for a shot. The right fit. Coaches he could trust. A situation where he could contribute. A high-level education. Something that feels right.

After spending time with Indiana coach Tom Allen, McMahon was sold, even as East Carolina, Fordham and others were pursuing him as well.

“I got in contact with (director of on-campus recruiting) Ryan Hansen,” McMahon said. “After my spring break I wanted to set up a visit together and once I went down I was completely blown away.

“Talking to running backs coach (Craig) Johnson and talking to coach Allen when I was down there, I really got a great vibe from the place and I felt they could make me the best football player I can be, not only develop me as a player but as a man as well.

“I got a real feel for (Allen) when he told me, and my family was in the room as well, that not only will we develop you as a great football player but they’ll develop me as a great man. That speaks volumes to his character as a man and as a coach. It’s more important to develop a strong relationship with your coach you can relate to and you want to play for.

“Ever since that conversation I wanted to play for coach Allen and I felt it was an easy decision.”

Recruiting went differently for McMahon than most others who have 50 offers, college coaches salivating to get them on campus and basically begging for them to commit. McMahon had to do a lot of the leg work – and that was fine with him even though it was difficult at times.

“It was frustrating at first because coming from New York City I felt I wasn’t getting enough exposure, but my head football coach said if you have talent they’ll find you,” McMahon said. “This is a testament that if you keep your head down and keep working, schools will find you. When Indiana called, when every school called, I was extremely excited.”

When McMahon announced his commitment to Indiana, another side of the family was seen in public view when his father, Shane, tweeted out about how proud he was of his son’s decision.

It was a common dad move, seen thousands of times by dads of other recruits.

It was so pedestrian that it stood out for the man known as Shane-O-Mac in the ring, the guy who jumped off top ropes and slammed through tables and kicked trash cans into opponents. Not normal “dad stuff.”

In some ways, Declan McMahon is jumping off the top rope into his own football future. Could the wrestling business be waiting? Sure. But the 2022 running back is going to take his shot at football first, grounded in the reality he’s part of an incredibly successful wrestling and entertainment family with high expectations ahead.

Son has certainly made dad proud – and vice versa.

“When you see him on TV and always because he’s my father, he feels like a superhero and I bet he feels like a superhero to a lot of other people – but when you grow up, and I’ve been developing my body and my mind for 18 years – he’s stayed the same,” McMahon said. “As I’ve been growing and maturing he’s always been my father and when he jumps off these cages it’s crazy but people ask him for a photo. People love my dad and for the same reason I look up to him as my hero and those kids don’t have an opportunity to see him every day.

“It’s really helped develop me as a person and me as a man and just being around the business for so long I’ve met such incredible people it’s really helped me build my character. When he does that whole shuffle and jumping off the cage, he’s Shane O-Mac. But at the house he’s Dad.”

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