O'Donnell returns to Richardson

Former Gaels offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell visits Kingston during Cincinnati Bengals’ bye week

Matt O'Donnell watches his former team beat the Western Mustangs 37-0 on Saturday.
Matt O'Donnell watches his former team beat the Western Mustangs 37-0 on Saturday.

Former Gael Matt O’Donnell has a new nickname in the Cincinnati Bengals’ locker room.

“Everyone calls me Big Canada,” the 6’9" offensive tackle told the Journal during a visit to Kingston last week.

The Bengals didn’t play on the weekend, so O’Donnell was in the stands at Richardson Stadium for the Gaels’ 37-0 win over the Western Mustangs on Saturday.

O’Donnell signed with the NFL team on July 26. He played in four exhibition games in August before he was assigned to the practice squad on Sept. 4. He’s currently the Bengals’ fifth-string offensive tackle and likely won’t crack the roster this season.

O’Donnell said the Bengals have a timeline for his development, but that he’s set his own personal goals for the next few seasons.

“Practice squad this year, make the roster for the next two years,” he said. “Then hopefully step into the starting role three years from now.” O’Donnell was drafted 15th overall by the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in May, but didn’t report to the team’s rookie camp on June 1. He skipped it to attend a tryout with the NBA’s Boston Celtics. O’Donnell said he hasn’t spoken to the Roughriders since the summer.

“I know a lot of people didn’t agree with my choice [not to report to the Roughriders], but … you’ve just got to be the best you can be,” he said. “If the NFL doesn’t work out, it’s going to be my first option.”

O’Donnell said he’s improving quickly from playing with top players every day in Cincinnati. He listed starting offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth as a mentor.

“He’s just helping me out as much as he can,” O’Donnell said. “He’s really taken me under his wing.”

After last season’s 4-12 finish, the Bengals are currently 4-2. O’Donnell said the team’s winning record means they’re popular with Cincinnatians.

“They just love football,” he said. “It’s a good culture down there right now, especially because we’re winning.”

Even though he’s on the practice squad, O’Donnell’s schedule is as demanding as a roster player’s. He spends 45 to 50 hours at the Bengals’ facility every week.

“You can’t stay up like you could in university and then phone in the next day and skip class or something,” he said. “It’s really just work, go home, sleep, go back to work.”

O’Donnell wasn’t playing football during the NFL’s summer lockout. He said the break set him back and he still has to work on getting used to the speed of the NFL game.

“Everything’s about staying on the team and promoting yourself ... you can be gone the next day.”

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