Posted: 4:44 pm Saturday, May 10th, 2014
By Matt Porter
He ran a 40-yard dash on par with receivers and tight ends. He put up bench-press reps like an offensive lineman. He “looks like Drago,” his coach once said, referring to the Rocky IV villain.
But Pat O’Donnell is a punter, and the first one off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Chicago Bears selected O’Donnell, a Lake Worth native who played at Palm Beach Central High, on Saturday with the 191st pick of the sixth round.
O’Donnell, who watched the draft with his family at home, laughed over the phone when asked about his reaction.
“I was excited,” he said. “I was really excited. It’s a great organization. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
O’Donnell will reunite with former Palm Beach Central teammate Jon Bostic, a Bears linebacker. He also should get a chance to start as a rookie. In March the Bears released veteran Adam Podlesh, who struggled through 2013. Chicago ranked last in the NFL in gross punting average.
“They said they were very excited to get me in the draft,” he said. “They were excited for me to come out there and compete for the spot.”
An average of two punters per year are selected, but several highly ranked players remained on the board when O’Donnell heard his name called.
“I think there so much talent across the country,” he said. “To be drafted in the NFL Draft is a huge honor. It’s definitely a big honor. I was actually surprised. I had a lot of confidence in myself. A lot of people were telling me it’s possible.”
The selection of a punter was somewhat of a laughing matter to the NFL Network crew, who admitted they couldn’t break down what made O’Donnell a good or bad choice.
“All I know is if you’re drafted as a kicker, you’re pretty darn special,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, a guest analyst for the network, saw O’Donnell during his team’s Nov. 2 meeting with the Canes in Tallahassee. “This guy’s good, man,” Fisher said. “He affected the field position big time. He’s consistent. Big long guy, big leg.
“Would you consider him a weapon?” host Rich Eisen asked.
“Without a doubt,” Fisher said.
O’Donnell’s former teammates had plenty of praise, as expected.
“Bears got a great one!!” Hurricanes kicker Matt Goudis tweeted. ”Not only the best punter in the nation but a great holder and a kickoff specialist.”
O’Donnell did all that at UM, where he was named an All-American by USA Today, Athlon and SI.com in 2013. He was best in the ACC and second nationally with a 47.1-yard punting average (including a long punt of 71 yards). His career best, set during his three years at Cincinnati, was 76 yards.
He was selected one spot ahead of the other Hurricanes punter to be drafted: Jupiter’s Matt Bosher (sixth round, 192nd overall, 2011 by the Atlanta Falcons). Two other UM punters, Rick Tuten and Jeff Feagles, each went undrafted, but became Pro Bowlers and Super Bowl champions.
Tuten, who punted for the 1983 national champions, made the 1994 Pro Bowl and was a Super Bowl champ with the 1999 Rams. Feagles, punter for the 1987 title team, played 22 years in the league, made two Pro Bowls, an All-Pro squad and won a Super Bowl with the 2007 Giants.
None entered the NFL with the athleticism of O’Donnell, who grabbed headlines for running a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That tied the fastest by a kicker or punter since 2006, according to NFL.com. He also put up 23 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press — better than No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
At a chiseled 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he looks more like a tight end than a punter. It’s a frame that inspired UM coach Al Golden to give him that “Drago” nickname after he arrived on campus last August.
O’Donnell, who punted for three years at Cincinnati, knows a bit about punting in chilly weather. But when he leaves Thursday for team workouts, it will be his first trip to the Windy City.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “The weather’s not going to be sunny and 70 degrees the whole time, so it’s going to be a challenge – like facing any team, like [in] any stadium.”