Al Golden had just finished praising the young man he considered the “most impressive” Miami Hurricane after two days of fall camp, when someone suggested that the 6-5, 220-pound Cincinnati transfer looked like a beast.
“He does,” Golden said in agreement. “He looks like a SAM linebacker.”
Patrick O’Donnell did play some linebacker at Palm Beach Central High. Tight end, too.
But what the Hurricanes really needed for this season is what O’Donnell — deemed one of the Top 10 “workout-warrior freaks” in college football by ESPN in 2011 — now proudly calls himself.
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O’Donnell, 22, grew up playing soccer and loving the Canes with his mother, father and younger sister. He watched them on TV. He listened to them on the radio. But he was not recruited by Miami as a scholarship player, despite being a first-team All-State kicker and co-winner of the 2008 Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in Palm Beach County.
Blame 2004 and 2005 Lou Groza winner for that. Matt Bosher had an outstanding career at Miami, and was drafted two years ago in the sixth round by the Atlanta Falcons.
“That was during the Bosher era,” O’Donnell explained, “so everything was taken care of pretty much, so… I mean, it was a little bit disappointing, being a big-time Miami fan growing up.”
Off O’Donnell went to Cincinnati to play for then-coach Brian Kelly, now the coach at Notre Dame. The long-legged punter from Lake Worth did not disappoint, averaging 43.8 yards per punt in 2011 as a first-team All-Big East punter and Ray Guy Award semifinalist.
His career average was 42.6-yards per punt, with Cincinnati winning the Big East three of his four seasons.
Seventeen of O’Donnell’s punts in ’11 sailed more than 50 yards, his longest an amazing 76-yard boomer that flipped the field against North Carolina State and led to a Bearcats touchdown.
“What a bomb off the legs of O’Donnell!” the ESPN commentator shouted while O’Donnell was mobbed by teammates.
He is on the 2013 Ray Guy Award Watch List and will likely punt and kick off, with sophomore Matt Goudis handling field goals and extra points.
“It’s practice and practice and practice,” O’Donnell said of his clutch kicking. “Definitely a big moment for me. It always feels good to get off a good punt.”
A former Big East All-Academic performer, O’Donnell graduated with a degree in organizational leadership, and thus, per NCAA rules, was allowed to transfer to UM without sitting out the customary year. He said he returned to South Florida to tend to a personal family matter, and Golden jumped at the chance to nab him.
Last year’s UM punter, Dalton Botts, graduated after averaging 40.5 yards.
“Huge, huge bonus,” Golden said. “All of a sudden we get a release and a call from Palm Beach that he’s out there. The next thing you know he was visiting, and then he was a Cane.
“He’s back home, going to graduate school and keeping his pro aspirations alive with a team that needs him. … He’s so steady. In my mind it’s like Tiger Woods banging balls. That’s all I see, his craft everyday. It’s like everyday on the driving range for him.”
And in the weight room.
O’Donnell was No. 10 on Bruce Feldman’s Workout Warriors list two seasons ago.
“Yes, a punter,” Feldman wrote. “Don’t roll your eyes, though. This guy is one of the more imposing punters since the Pittsburgh Panthers’ MMA fighter Dave Bytus.”
Back then, O’Donnell bench-pressed 355 pounds. He said he’s now up to 370, and does 23 reps of 225 pounds.
He “broad jumps 9’2” and his 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds is actually faster than the time [former Gator and 2012 Olympic medalist] Jeff Demps clocks,” Feldman wrote of O’Donnell, who said last week he runs “around 4.6” in the 40-yard dash.
“I was shocked,” O’Donnell said of being on the “freaks” list. Then he reconsidered. “Well, not shocked. There are a lot of great athletes out there and to pick a punter is very humbling.”
O’Donnell’s sister Megan rows for Nova Southeastern and was part of the varsity-4 boat that won the NCAA National Championship last season.
His dad, Terry, was a 6-4 basketball player at the now defunct Nasson College in Springvale, Maine.
“We’re thrilled to have him home,” the elder O’Donnell said. “He’s just a hard-working, dedicated kid who has a dream. He’d love to go to the NFL next year and he’s working hard to pursue that dream.”
UM center Shane McDermott played high school football with O’Donnell and is grateful they’re together again.
“He’s one of the best out there,” McDermott said. “I know how hard he works. I remember during our recruiting process we both wanted to go to UM, but he got offered a walk-on spot. He is so happy to finally be back home.”