What else can you say about today’s player except that his rise has been meteoric?
Aidan O’Conell - Sr. (6th)
Long Grove, IL (Stevenson HS)
6’3”, 210 Pounds
2022 Projection: Starter
Like others that bear his initials, no one had heard of AOC in 2017. When he came to Purdue as a preferred walk-on very little was expected of him. He arrived at the same time as Jeff Brohm and was well down the depth chart. David Blough and Elijah Sindelar were in the midst of their running battle to start. Jack Plummer and Nick Sipe were promising young prospects. Even Jared Sparks was still at quarterback before moving to receiver, and he was getting third team snaps.
Honestly, I never though he would see the field at all, and he didn’t in his first two years. He still impressed people behind the scenes, and it was enough for him to move up to third on the depth chart by 2019. When Sindelar was lost for the season against Minnesota he moved up further. He saw his first career action in mop-up duty at Penn State, completing a four yard pass. A few weeks later in the rain against Illinois he came on for an ineffective Jack Plummer, completing 8 of 14 passes for 67 yards and a TD in a 24-6 loss.
It is unfortunate that AOC benefitted from injuries to other guys in 2019, but when Plummer broke his ankle late against Nebraska his legend began. He led the game-winning drive by going 6 of 7 for 62 yards to beat the Cornhuskers 31-27. A week later he did it again. He struggled in his first start at Northwestern, but threw for 271 yards and two scores and again led the game-winning drive as Purdue won on a last second field goal 24-22. He would finished with 1,101 yards and 8 TDs on the year, and he had a monster game in the Bucket game with 408 yards in the 44-41 doubler overtime loss.
The shortened COVID year saw a battle between Plummer and AOC to start, and O’Connell won round one. He again led a late comeback to beat Iowa in the opener 24-20, then he threw for 371 yards in the win at Illinois. It was then his turn to get hurt, as he was injured against Northwestern and done for the season. He still throw for 916 yards and 7 TDs in just three games.
Then you have last season. In Plummer vs. O’Connell round two the early advantage went to Plummer. Jack won the job out of camp and started the first four games. AOC played as a backup against UConn, Notre Dame, and Illinois, but had only 372 yards total and 3 TDs against 4 picks. Still, Jeff Brohm chose him to start against Minnesota. He threw for 371 yards, but a couple of costly turnovers and sacks doomed Purdue.
Brohm still believed in him though, and after he went for 375 yards and two scores in the upset of No. 2 Iowa (with a massive assist to David Bell) he took off. He would go on to have monster games against Michigan State (another top 5 upset), Northwestern, and Tennessee as he closed the year with 3,712 yards and 28 TDs against 11 picks, all in just nine starts. The yardage total is the fifth best in school history over a single season.
AOC elected to return for his free sixth year this year, and the former walk-on is now heralded as one of the best passers in the country. He is a definite NFL prospect, he should win the Burlsworth Award for the nation’s most outstanding player that began his career as a walk-on, and he could end up as the first single season 4,000 yard passer in Purdue history. He is already in the record book as Purdue’s most accurate career passer, completing 68.4% of his passes. His 71.6% completion percentage in 2021 also shattered the school’s single season record there.
The sky is the limit this year for AOC. His return has the Boilers as a contender in the West, and he is capable of delivering our best season in decades.