Aidan O'Connell, admittedly, probably would've transferred away from Purdue "if I were a little smarter." As a walk-on quarterback, O'Connell not only didn't play his first two years in West Lafayette – he was eighth out of nine quarterbacks on the Boilermakers' depth chart.
"I probably would've looked around and said hey, I'm not going to play here, I should move on," O'Connell said. "But I got to the point where I loved being at Purdue off the field. I had great people that poured into my life and supported me, and so I'm not gonna say never but for most of the time it didn't feel like my job, it didn't feel like a burden. I love to do the extra work, and obviously the resources we had were great. So it was a great opportunity."
Maybe learning to love that extra work helped O'Connell last week at the NFL Combine, as he went through rapid-fire interviews – each lasting 15 minutes – for about four hours with various teams. O'Connell said he tried to bring a certain energy to those interviews, which doesn't sound like an easy task when you have to do it for four hours.
Although for O'Connell, it was no problem.
"It gets a little hectic sometimes, but I really enjoy the game," O'Connell said. "I really enjoy talking about the game, learning new things. I was exposed to a lot of stuff because I was in college for a really long time. But I still love learning new things. It's really a big part of why I love the game. And so I tried to take it as a learning experience and run with it."
O'Connell went from a depth chart afterthought to earning a few shots at being Purdue's starting quarterback from 2019-2020, then cementing himself as QB1 in West Lafayette during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. He completed 635/939 passes (68 percent) from 2021-2022 for 6,662 yards with 50 touchdowns, and feels like all those years at Purdue – from a buried backup to starter – prepared him well for the next step of his career in the NFL.
"I'm going to go into a situation where I might not be the starter right away and I'm going to have to work for it," O'Connell said. "Obviously I know what it's like to do that, I know what it's like to be the backup and have to support someone in front of you. So try to and do my best to be a great teammate and at the same time prepare like I am the starter."
In fact, O'Connell didn't even start in high school until his senior year at Stevenson in the northern Chicago suburbs. He's known the value of patience, learning behind the scenes and being a good teammate for a while – all qualities that'll benefit him wherever he winds up in the NFL.
"It's a balance you have to find of being patient in football, because you don't ever want to get complacent," O'Connell said. "You don't want to act like you don't care or you're not preparing. So it's a constant striving to be the starter, to be the one who's gonna play and to work as hard as you can to lean the playbook, knowing the gameplan and all those things, but at the same time understanding that a lot of things are out of your control.
"... I think I bring being a great locker room guy and being a great leader. I'm gonna lead by example even if I'm not the starter and I'm not gonna vocally address the team. I'm going to lead by example and do what I'm supposed to do."