MISSOULA — A lifelong dream became reality for Patrick O'Connell over the weekend, as the former Montana Grizzly linebacker signed a rookie free agent deal with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
It's a team he grew up rooting for, and he even was reached out to by an idol of his in former Seahawk linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a man who now works for the Seahawks and will work directly with O'Connell when he arrives to Seattle.
"I saw the headline of the text and it was like, 'Hey Patrick, this is Lofa Tatupu,' and then it was like dot dot dot," O'Connell told MTN Sports on Wednesday. "I didn't know at the time that he worked with the team. I was like is he just reaching out because he saw I signed or something? But then I saw he worked with the team and it was pretty awesome to be able to communicate with him."
O'Connell was picked up by Seattle at the conclusion of this year's NFL Draft. The wait felt like an eternity, but the celebration after with his family in Kalispell, was one to remember.
"It was like 20 minutes after the draft, but it felt like two hours because I was just sitting there waiting," O'Connell said. "I got off the phone with my agent and I told my family and my fiancé's family, 'So we're going to sign with the Seahawks,' and they were like, 'What? What do you mean?' I was like, 'We're going to sign with the Seahawks,' and then it finally clicked with them and they all just started screaming and yelling and it was an awesome time."
And then of course, there's always the phone situation when news of this magnitude drops.
"My goodness, it was just non-stop," O'Connell said with a laugh. "I just had to put it in my pocket and just let it do it's thing. I was like I'll get to most of these tomorrow. I actually finally caught up on my texts and got back to everyone it took me about three days though. It was kind of crazy. It's all a blessing, it's all part of it, I understand that and it's a good problem to have."
It's another chapter, and odds-defying opportunity for O'Connell, a well-traveled athlete who grew up in Kalispell and was a two-sport NCAA Division II athlete in North Dakota at the University of Mary before opting to walk-on at UM for football.
"It's just another step in the process, another step in the journey, but it's honestly a dream come true to get that call because I grew up a Seahawks fan, and my family has had season tickets since the Seahawks actually became a team, so I've been to a lot of games over there and a lot of travel over there, it's been super fun to grow up watching those games and honestly I can probably count on my hand the amount of games I've missed watching since I was a little kid," O'Connelll shared. "Like, I've watched every Seahawks game on TV if I couldn't go to Seattle, so it's pretty amazing, it's definitely a dream come true."
At Montana, he turned into a two-time All-American, and one of the best defensive players in the country. His 28.5 career sacks rank sixth most in school history, and he's tied for fourth in program history in tackles for loss with 45.
With his college career completed, finding the right position has been a large element of O'Connell's pro prospects. While an outside linebacker and edge rusher at UM, O'Connell will begin training and working as an inside linebacker in Seattle. Teams also were curious about his ability in pass coverage, his athleticism and size at the professional level.
After a stellar performance at UM's Pro Day back in early April, O'Connell saw the interest from NFL teams grow as the draft approached. There, he was able to get the attention of the scouts by showcasing his athletic prowess.
"Growing up, I liked to compete in everything that I've done and that's just how I like to do things," O'Connell said. "I like to do things the hard way so that when the challenge comes and it's not so hard, obviously there's going to be challenges along the way but to go out and do everything that I do 110% is going to make it a little bit easier when that time comes and that's how I like to do things."
O'Connell will head to Seattle on May 11 as he gets set for rookie mini-camp.
The Glacier High School grad now once again has an opportunity before him, and if anyone knows how to seize the moment, it's Patrick O'Connell.
"Like, if you told me that, I'd probably say you're crazy because I didn't know where this thing was going, but once I kind of grabbed the bull by the horns you could say, then I knew what I wanted to do with this," O'Connell said. "I wanted to go all in and there's a lot of sacrifices that go into being great at the college level. Now, I signed a pro contract and it's time to ramp up the work even more so I'm excited to do that.
"Luckily enough I was blessed to get that call, and now I'm a Seahawk."