Stevenson's O'Connell making the most of his chance
In a family of six kids, Stevenson senior Aidan O'Connell is used to waiting his turn.
"For the most part, I wouldn't trade it. I love it," O'Connell said of his big Long Grove family, which includes older brothers Sean and Patrick, younger brothers Liam and Seamus, younger sister Grace and parents Jim and Kathy. "But sometimes, it's a lot to have people around you all the time, having to share everything."
Whether it's for the bathroom, the keys to the car, or the remote for the TV, there always seems to be someone in line ahead of O'Connell.
Same for the quarterback job at Stevenson, a school that has been gaining a reputation as Lake County's version of "Quarterback University."
O'Connell has been patiently, and, as he admits, sometimes impatiently, waiting in the wings over the last three years, watching as star quarterbacks Willie Bourbon and Jack Sorenson have taken their turns under center ahead of him.
Bourbon led Stevenson to a state championship in 2014. Sorenson, who graduated last year, was one of the best all-around athletes to go through the program.
"Seeing how successful Willie and Jack were is what motivated me the most to improve my game," O'Connell said. "I learned so much from Willie and Jack, just by watching them. Their leadership styles, the way they maneuver the pocket, they taught me a lot. They were both amazing."
Bourbon and Sorenson are just two of the big-name players to quarterback the Patriots in recent years, joining the likes of Preston Earl, Kevin Earl, Matt Micucci and Bobby Giannini.
Now, it is finally O'Connell's turn. He's a senior, and he's got one season to prove that he belongs in the esteemed QB club at Stevenson, too.
Already, with 1,078 yards in three games, O'Connell is making a great case. Just three weeks removed from his first-ever varsity start, he is arguably the most prolific quarterback in the area this season. His 447 passing yards in Week 2 against Muskegon, a perennial powerhouse in Michigan, set a school record.
"It was hard, last year especially, because of course I wanted more chances to get in the game," said O'Connell, who played a lot in the 2015 season opener when Sorenson went down with an injury, but little besides that. "But I understood why I was on the sideline. Jack (Sorenson) was an outstanding athlete. The best thing about him for me was that he did a really good job of instilling faith in me.
"He would tell me that I was practicing for next year, that it would be my turn one day, that this would be my team next year."
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound O'Connell has guided "his team" to a 2-1 record so far. And he has seemingly made the transition from understated back-up to vocal starter seamlessly.
"Aidan is off to a great start to the season. His numbers are awesome and record-breaking, and I'm not surprised based on his physical talent and incredible knowledge of the game," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "He has great command of our offense.
"What I enjoy most about Aidan is his passion. He is constantly talking to the guys or directing them into the right positions. It has translated into great production during the games. He has the ability to be one of the best-ever Patriots."
O'Connell, who has been a quarterback since third grade mostly because, as he says, "I could throw it further than all the other kids," credits not only Bourbon and Sorenson for his growth and development, but also McNamara, a quarterback himself in college, and local quarterback guru Jeff Christensen.
Christensen, a former NFL quarterback, tutors high school and college quarterbacks and even some pro quarterbacks. O'Connell has been going to Christensen's "Throw It Deep" quarterback camps for years.
"Jeff has really made me the quarterback I am today," O'Connell said. "He's worked a lot with me on footwork and moving in the pocket.
"Coach Mac (McNamara) has helped me with a lot of the same things. He's also given me a lot of confidence. Last year, when Jack (Sorenson) went down on the second play (of the season opener against Palatine), he just turned to me and said, 'It's your turn to go in.' There was no hesitation. He didn't even skip a beat. That really helped me."
McNamara knew O'Connell could handle the job. He says that O'Connell is a true student of the game and is one of the hardest workers on the team.
But even with top-notch skills to round out the package, O'Connell could be fighting an uphill battle with college scouts. Not only is he late to the party (in terms of getting varsity game action), but he is still on the smaller side for a big-time quarterback. O'Connell says he's been working furiously to put on weight and muscle.
"I've probably been overlooked a little bit so far," O'Connell said. "There's a little bit of pressure there because I really want to play in college, but that just motivates me. And I figure that if I just go out and play hard and help us win, everything else should take care of itself."
O'Connell, who has a 4.1 grade point average, has gotten interest from some Ivy League schools. His performance at various camps this summer opened eyes elsewhere.
"Colleges should be knocking down his door," McNamara said of O'Connell. "He has all the tools to be great at the next level. He has size (height), mobility, throwing accuracy, great timing delivering the ball and he has a mental ability that is outstanding. He is a coach and leader on and off the field."
One of O'Connell's biggest goals for the season is to lead the Patriots back to the state finals. He was brought up to the varsity in 2014 and got to be on the sidelines for Stevenson's historic championship win at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
"Running out of that tunnel onto that field is one of my greatest memories ever," O'Connell said. "Even though I knew I wouldn't be playing, I was so excited to be there and be a part of that.
"I want to do that again."
O'Connell is hoping that it is his turn.
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