Commentary

Joey O'Connor's hard work pays off

Penn State OT commit can't wait to play against best in UA All-America Game

Originally Published: October 13, 2011
By Damon Sayles | ESPN Recruiting Nation

At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Windsor (Colo.) High School OT Joey O'Connor has made a habit of turning unsuspecting defensive ends and linebackers into football sleds. There are tapes of O'Connor literally driving opposing players as much as 10 yards away from the original line of scrimmage.

There are also tapes of O'Connor pancaking a defender -- and then offering a hand to help the player up. Proof that the big, four-star offensive tackle is a gentle giant at heart, but also someone who understands there is a job to do. That job is to protect his quarterback's blind side, even if that means making a defender look foolish with a punishing block.

O'Connor, No. 104 in the ESPNU 150, does his job quite well, and his efforts were rewarded Thursday morning. O'Connor received his No. 12 jersey as the American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour made a stop to Windsor, putting a big smile on the face of the Penn State commitment. It was part of the 80-stop American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.

"When I first found out, I wanted to drop the phone and start screaming," O'Connor said. "My parents were proud. It was just overwhelming. It's a huge compliment to not only me but the town of Windsor and our football program. I'm still trying to take it all in."

A mindset built on the ice

There's a certain Jekyll-and-Hyde aura about O'Connor that makes him who he is. Off the field, he's kind and courteous and an overall model citizen.

On the field, he's a technician who doubles as a monster adamant about protecting his players in the backfield. A starter since his freshman year, O'Connor has worked hard to be a specialist as the tackle position. He's also done his part to give Windsor a 5-1 record on the season.

"We'll go one on one with the scout team, and he'll go after guys and just drive them. Our defense ends and tackles will say, 'Man, take it easy,'" Windsor coach Chris Jones said. "He definitely has a respect for the game and how to do things the right way."

O'Connor said he gets his mission to protect the quarterback from his many years of playing hockey. O'Connor was a defenseman in Colorado for 11 years. He first played organized hockey at 5.

"As a defenseman, you're always protecting the goalie," he said. "That translates right into football."

Meeting JoePa

As satisfying it was for O'Connor to put on the Under Armour jersey Thursday, he admitted the feeling was a close second to meeting his future college coach, the legendary Joe Paterno.

"I met him on my official when they played Eastern Michigan," O'Connor said. "When I was sitting in his office, I was looking at Joe Paterno. You just sit back and say, 'Holy cow, that's Joe Paterno right there!' I'm excited about going to Penn State and what I'll learn from him."

Davis said there was something about how Penn State coaches spoke about O'Connor that made him believe the senior was making the right decision. Davis and his coaching staff have done a solid job on turning O'Connor into an all-state lineman, but he's even more excited about the potential player O'Connor can be with the Nittany Lions.

Davis said O'Connor feeds off a leadership-by-action attitude, and speaking with the Penn State, he feels he will grow into a standout, all-conference lineman, as well as a respectable student-athlete.

"It's student-athlete first out there, and you can tell they care about the kids," Davis said. "They see certain traits in Joey that we haven't seen yet."

But first, is the UA Game on Jan. 5, which seems too far away to O'Connor.

"I can't wait to get down there and work with guys better than me and who will push me," O'Connor said. "I have the mindset from Windsor and my head coach that no matter what happens, I'll never be outworked."

Everything Jones has asked O'Connor to do, he's handled with professionalism and a work ethic that has become enviable on the practice fields. O'Connor is the first to admit he puts his team above himself.

Not long ago, Windsor was a struggling program. Part of the team's recent success stems from leaders like O'Connor. The leadership has been rewarded with an All-American honor, and it's something O'Connor wants to share with the Windsor community.

"Everyone is at the football games. The town support and community is just awesome here," O'Connor said. "Everyone supports everything. It's not just football; it's soccer, volleyball, everything.

"I have that label of being an Under Armour All-American, and people congratulate me about that, but this is for my team and the community."

Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com.