Last year at this time Joey O’Connor was helping lead the Windsor High School football team on a memorable run toward a Class 3A state championship.
A year later, O’Connor’s freshman year as an offensive lineman at Ohio State hasn’t gone as planned.
As one of the Buckeyes’ prized recruits in their 2012 class and one of Colorado’s top players last year, O’Connor was expected to see some playing time on the offensive line at center or guard during his first year in Columbus, Ohio.
Unfortunately, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound O’Connor wasn’t involved in one snap count this season and started his freshman year on crutches.
O’Connor, 18, missed the entire season because of a knee injury. Going into Saturday’s game (Nov. 24) against Michigan, the Buckeyes were 11-0 and playing for an undefeated season in their last game of the year. Due to NCAA sanctions, the Buckeyes weren’t eligible to play in a bowl game or compete for a BCS national championship this year. O’Connor will be awarded a redshirt, and will still have four years of eligibility at Ohio State.
O’Connor’s dad, Joe O’Connor, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that adjusting to new surroundings and rehabbing from knee surgery wasn’t the easiest thing for his son.
“It was incredibly frustrating for him,” Joe said. “Couple that with homesickness, being X amount of miles away from his comfort zone, it was real difficult the first couple of months. For any freshman, whether they’re playing ball or not, I’m sure that’s a factor. Couple that with an injury, that just made it ever harder. He got through it, and realized that he had to put his big-boy pants on and took care of business.”
Originally, O’Connor had his knee scoped and cleaned out after it bothered him during the summer.
Joe said his son’s left knee then required microfracture surgery.
“It was during camp and it was around the first of August when it was first diagnosed,” Joe said. “He had the one surgery and they thought they got it taken care of. They told him flat out that it could be six months, it could be six years, it could be 16 years before you have to have a real serious surgery. They told him this thing could degenerate, and that’s exactly what happened. He was obviously disappointed, but at the end of the day he was definitely grateful that he got it done now.”
Joe said his son has learned so much by observing the way Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer runs a program.
“He found his way in gaining the respect of the coaching staff and the training staff just based on his work ethic to get back to where he needs to be for the spring,” Joe said. “He’s physically off the crutches, and he’s putting weight on it. Everybody that’s talked to him about it, professionally, said that he’s on schedule.”
Joe and his wife, Ann, have made some trips to Columbus during the fall for games, as well as during their son’s surgeries. Joe said his son has embraced the coaching staff, the culture and Meyer.
“He loves the entire environment,” Joe said. “He loves the traditions.”
Joe said his son will be home through Christmas.
Getting used to living in a heavily populated area — population is about 800,000 in Columbus — was an adjustment for O’Connor, his dad said.
“The change in culture coming from a Colorado small town, you know Windsor and Eaton, farming community to metropolitan Columbus. All the kids that he deals with are not from small communities,” Joe said. “They’re from Cincinnati, they’re from Columbus, they’re from Cleveland, they’re from Fort Lauderdale. That’s basically his biggest challenge is meshing with those metropolitan-type kids. He’s listed as the country kid coming from Colorado out west. It was definitely a culture shock all across the board.”