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2016 MAC Player Countdown #22: Pat O’Connor, DL, EMU

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It could be a special year for O’Connor and EMU by association

Pat O'Connor Andrew Mascharka - The Eastern Echo

Our countdown continues with a prime example of how market share matters and injuries are the most unfair thing in all of sports. Put Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Pat O’Connor on another major market team in 2015 and all of a sudden he goes from watchlists for national awards to lists of favorites to win. He shifts from All-MAC to All-American. But that wasn’t the case for O’Connor, but the world looked as bright as ever as 2014 transitioned to 2015.

O’Connor was on track to be The Next Big Thing in the MAC, and follow in the footsteps of Khalil Mack, Eric Fisher, and a whole host of other MAC alums who were able to realize their dreams in the NFL. After a nagging injury in spring ball became a season-ending injury before 2015 began, the chatter understandably died down.

For O’Connor, 2016 opens without the fanfare of 2015, but the skillset that led him to the accolades and attention is still there in spades. After his approved medical redshirt for the 2015 campaign, O’Connor enters his senior season ready to, as the kiddies say, wreck it. MAC offenses, you are officially on notice.

MAC Player Countdown #22: Pat O’Connor, DL, Eastern Michigan

The Backstory:
Flashback to 2015 and life was golden for O’Connor. Preseason All-MAC attention from Athlon and Phil Steele, along with watch list nods for the Lombardi Trophy and the Nagurski Trophy. What warranted the attention? His 2014 performance, of course.

Leading the MAC in sacks (47th nationally) and 4th-highest tackles-for-loss numbers in the conference all while being double teamed (if not triple teamed) on most plays was an impressive feat. Being a statistical beast and an impact player is one thing, but being one of the few on your squad and having the opposing team gameplan specifically for you and pulling it off anyway is even more impressive.

EMU is the easiest target for jabs, barbs, and shots across the bow in the name of humor, spite, or conference arrogance. But take it from those of us who know the conference best: O’Connor would be a sure fire starter on every MAC program’s roster and to honest, most of FBS as well.

Why a Top 25 MACthlete?
Though his junior season put him on the map, his entire career at Eastern Michigan has been noteworthy. He’s played in every game since his arrival on campus, elected captain of either the team or the defense each year since his freshman season, and has been one of the few consistent bright spots for a program that has historically always struggled to find traction nationally, locally, or even on campus.

It has been a strange offseason for EMU, one with a line in the sand for a small but vocal minority of campus faculty and administrators who have very openly questioned the need for a football program. It sure would be nice if there was a rallying point of success in the EMU program for the other side of that argument to point to as a point of pride for a campus and athletic program in dire need of attention, interest, and support. O’Connor can be that person if 2016 is anything like 2014.

Interesting Fact:
In high school, O’Connor helped his St. Rita squad make the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. I’m not saying that Eastern Michigan is equatable in terms of their MAC performance to a Chicago high school playoff drought, but he does have experience leading teams to plateaus they haven’t reached in a while.

Video Proof of Awesomeness:

That’s snow. And water. And it doesn’t seem warm. After jumping in that situation, I can’t imagine offensive lineman across the MAC intimidate O’Connor in the slightest.