Aidan O'Connell's fairy tale is still being authored
What a difference a year makes. Just Aidan O’Connell.
This time last year, the Purdue junior quarterback was buried on the depth chart. A forgotten walk-on. You had to get by Elijah Sindelar, Jack Plummer and Nick Sipe before you came to O’Connell’s name. Would he ever see the field?
Look at O’Connell now.
Everyone knows his name as he begins a battle with Plummer this spring to be the Boilermakers’ starting quarterback after making a storybook ascent and starting three games in 2019. It’s a story right out of Hollywood. Does O’Connell ever sit back and marvel at his fairy-tale rise?
“I won’t lie,” said O’Connell. “I do a lot. I think about it a lot because I am so lucky, so many things have gone well for me. I reflect on it a lot. I think about how lucky I am. The spot I’m in now is the spot I was dreaming for a lot of years, so I’m trying not to take it for granted.”
O’Connell got his opportunity because of injury to others. First, Sindelar was lost for the season after the fourth game because of a shoulder injury. Then, Sipe retired from football because of a bad back. Then, Plummer succumb to an ankle injury. That opened the door for O’Connell, who seized the opportunity and started in the final three games of 2019.
The 6-3, 210-pound O’Connell completed 62.8 percent of his attempts (103-of-164) for 1,101 yards with eight touchdowns and four picks. He engineered game-winning drives vs. Nebraska and Northwestern, showing calm and moxie.
“He came in and did really, really well,” said Plummer, who started six games in 2019 and is being limited a bit this spring as he comes back from the aforementioned ankle injury. “Aidan can spin it really well. He has a nice spiral. Him just going in there and cutting it loose was really cool to see, especially when I got here my first spring ball I think he was fifth- or sixth-string quarterback. So, that’s really cool for him to get out there and do what he did. At a really good level, too.”
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While O’Connell lacks top athletic ability, the Long Grove, Ill., native has a good arm and is accurate.
"(Aidan is) growing every day because he’s getting more reps, more reps," said co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Brohm. "I think him getting to play those three games, you saw him spike up and how much better he got as the games went on getting those live reps. Trying to get him in some more athletic situations, see him move around. You don't have to be Michael Vick out there. But the Tom Brady stuff where you can slide in the pocket and find ways to move and be athletic within the pocket and be able to get the ball out. We will be working on those things.”
How would O’Connell assess his athletic ability?
“I’m still pretty slow,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be but it motivates me and it just makes me want to get better. I don’t know if that’s every gonna be a big strength of mine, speed. But I’m just trying to chip away at it and just get a little bit better every day.”
Is it possible to become more athletic?
“That’s a great question,” said O’Connell after practice on Friday. “I’ve been trying to do it for about 10 years now. It’s been difficult. But I think just trusting what the strength coaches are preaching, working us through a lot of different drills, work on agility, a lot of it is strength, flexibility and things like that. Trusting (strength coaches) Coach (Domenic) Reno, Coach (Justin) Lovett and all our strength coaches doing the right thing.”
Both Jeff and Brian Brohm have said there is no pecking order in this quarterback battle as March dawns. There is no No. 1 or No. 2. And a decision isn’t imminent.”
“Right now, it's competition,” said Brian Brohm. “Competition. So, they will be through as evenly as we can make it.”
"We are gonna let that (the battle) play out," said Jeff Brohm. "Both guys have shown promise.”
The competition with Plummer hasn't made them foes. In fact, it has brought O’Connell and Plummer closer together.
"Jack is a very mature kid,” said O’Connell. “Obviously younger than me, but he’s a mature kid. Talk about being around students of the game, one of the smartest kids I’ve ever been around talking Xs and Os. He’s taught me a lot in that way. I love him to death. Just a very smart kid, very bright kid. We are in a lot of the same classes, too. It’s been a cool journey for me and him.”
And the competition doesn’t faze O’Connell.
“I can’t look over my shoulder and worry about what else is going on around me,” he said. “I’m just trying to control what I can control and I know more than anyone I have a lot of stuff to work on, so just working on what I have to work on.”
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