MISSOULA — Montana sophomore Patrick O’Connell is back home playing for the team he grew up cheering for from the stands of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Coming out of high school, the Kalispell Glacier grad and three-spot standout opted to attend Division II University of Mary in North Dakota to play both football and baseball on scholarship. He played in 10 football games as a freshman, but after coaching changes, he decided to come back to the state of Montana, sent his film to the Griz coaches and earned a walk-on spot after going through tryouts.
A 6-foot-2, 225-pound hybrid linebacker/defensive end, O’Connell was named Montana’s defensive scout team player of the year in 2018 while sitting out because of transfer rules. This year, he’s seen the field in both games and had his first sack in a Griz uniform during the victory over North Alabama this past weekend.
Q: What was the emotion like for you to get first career sack and to do it in your first game in Washington-Grizzly Stadium?
A: It was awesome. I didn’t have much production when we were playing South Dakota. I was just waiting for my time when I was coming in against North Alabama. The crowd was electric. It was fun. I’m glad it was at home for my first sack.
Q: What do you recall about the play and how it unfolded?
A: I was just looking over, getting the call. I know that we had a stunt on. I was just excited to get after the offensive line. I saw their quarterback kind of scrambling out. He was going to his left. I just shedded my guy and got him.
Q: First year for you actually playing here, so what do you feel you’ve picked up the quickest, and what are you still working on?
A: I feel like I’ve picked up on a lot of stuff from a lot of leaders out here like Dante (Olson), Jace (Lewis). Picked up a lot of stuff from the coaches especially. Just always keeping our nose to the grindstone. These coaches instill so much hard work, determination, everything. Just finishing. Finishing is the biggest thing that they’re working on, so I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve picked up here.
Q: You started at the University of Mary. How did the opportunity arise to come here?
A: I kind of took it upon myself. I had to reach out and I had to do the walk-on tryouts here after the first semester of my freshman year. I played football over at the University of Mary, and originally I was on scholarship to play football and baseball there. I just played one semester of football. Things didn’t work out. Both coaching staffs got fired for football and baseball. I thought I’d pack it up, come closer to home. Just reached out to coach Green. Once I saw coach Hauck was coming here, I got excited. I did the walk-on tryouts, ended up making it, did spring ball and ended up making the roster. So now here I am.
Q: How does it feel to call yourself a Grizzly now?
A: It’s awesome. I grew up coming to every home game when I was younger until high school. I came to some of them, but we had more stuff during high school that I couldn't make it. It was a dream when I was younger, so it’s pretty big to come out here and actually start playing. It’s kind of crazy to think how I was just sitting in there 10, 12 years ago watching these guys and now and now I’m one of those guys. It’s pretty crazy.
Q: How would you describe playing for Bobby Hauck?
A: It’s pretty awesome. He cares a lot about the guys he has. He’s determined to do what he has to do to help us to win. He takes everything to heart. He won’t blame his guys. He’ll take everything for the team. He’s an awesome guy to play for. Great head coach.
Q: Some fun ones to close. What are your favorite movies?
A: I really like war movies, action movies. The movie ‘300’ is probably one of my favorites. That’s an awesome movie. ‘Rudy.’ All the ‘Rocky’ movies. All those are good movies.
Q: What are three things you’d bring with you on a desert island?
A: Definitely water. Food. And a gun.
Q: Do you have any favorite pro teams or athletes?
A: I’ve always grown up a Seahawks and Mariners fan. Then my favorite all-time athlete is LeBron. I’ll always stay with him forever. That’s my guy.
Q: What are you majoring in?
A: Business management.
Q: Do you know what you want to do with that afterwards?
A: I really don’t know right now.