In two weeks, Coach Dan Mullen and his staff will see the official fruits of their recruiting labor…
The first punter off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft belongs to the Chicago Bears, and Patrick O'Donnell couldn't be happier.
"I knew one of us would get picked sooner or later," O'Donnell said after being selected by the Bears in the sixth round (191st overall). "I'm just so grateful that it happened to be me."
O'Donnell distinguished himself at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine by volunteering to participate in the agility tests. He impressed in those drills, posting a 4.60 40 yard dash and 23 reps in the bench press. Why would a punter offer to compete in those skills?
"I want to be a complete player," O'Donnell said. "I'm not going to just sit on the sidelines when it isn't my time to go on the field. I know I need to be physical and strong. I'm proud of the skills in that area that I have developed."
O'Donnell played four years at Cincinnati, then transferred to the University of Miami for his final year of eligibility. The reason was simple. His father had been diagnosed with cancer and O'Donnell, whose family resides in Lake Worth, Fla., wanted to be there for his dad.
"It was such an easy decision," O' Donnell said. "Once I heard the diagnosis, I knew my place was at his side helping him and the rest of my family."
The best part of the relocation, according to the young punter, was having the opportunity to watch this year's draft with his father, who is now in remission.
"We hugged and cried. It was an incredible moment," O'Donnell said. "To share it with him that way was something I'd hoped for quite a long time."
When asked about playing at Soldier Field after enjoying the balmy conditions in Miami, O‘Donnell was quick to remind reporters that he'd been playing in the Midwest already for four years during college.
"We traveled to some really cold places," O'Donnell said, "so I'm not expecting things to be that different in Chicago. I like wind. I'm fine with weather. Directional punting is not a problem for me either."
Last season O'Donnell was a unanimous All-ACC first-team choice. He was also named honorable mention by Sports Illustrated.
"I feel ready for this next level," O'Donnell said. "I am a specialist and I think I can make a positive difference. I'll be here to learn and to compete. It's a wonderful opportunity and I'm incredibly grateful for this chance."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.