From walk-on to starter, Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell seeks to glorify God

Count the Purdue Boilermakers among the five Big Ten teams still undefeated after the first three weeks of the conference’s 2020 season. They sit at 2-0, with wins over Iowa and Illinois, thanks in large part to steady quarterback play from junior Aidan O’Connell.

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Through those first two games, O’Connell has five touchdowns, two interceptions and 653 yards with a 70.6 percent completion percentage. His opportunity to show what he can do against a high-profile opponent last Saturday at No. 10 Wisconsin was thwarted when the matchup was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Badgers’ program.

This week, O’Connell and his Boilermakers are set to host another ranked opponent, No. 23 Northwestern, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

O’Connell has proven himself to be a quality Big Ten starter and cemented himself in that role since he took the reins at Purdue late in 2019, when he entered a contest against Nebraska and led a game-winning touchdown drive.

He was named the starter for the next game against Northwestern, led his team to victory and has been the starter ever since. Television cameras captured O’Connell kneeling on the sidelines with tears in his eyes in that game’s closing moments.

“I just had been reflecting lately on my life, my journey to get where I am,” O’Connell told after that game.

The powerful moment was certainly touching, and historic as well. O’Connell became the first walk-on ever to start at quarterback for Purdue. He was fourth on the depth chart to begin the 2019 season, but due in part to a rash of injuries, was called upon to play.

For O’Connell, his first career start was years in the making.

“I’ve been playing since the second grade, and I didn’t know I was working toward this moment,” he told the Purdue Exponent last year. “But that was God’s plan for me.”

O’Connell said he has always known about God, but through the years his faith has deepened.

“For the most part, my faith has always been an important part of my life. I haven’t always done a good job of making it a priority,” the Illinois native told His Huddle this September. “When I was a young Christian, I wasn’t mature and often didn’t live how I knew I should be living. As I’ve matured, I have done a better job of making faith more important. Though I still have work to do, I am working everyday to make sure I put God in the driver’s seat.”

O’Connell said his journey through two years of anonymity around campus served to test, refine and strengthen his faith in God and his calling as a college athlete.

“My first two years here were pretty low-key. I was kind of doing my own thing. No one really knew about me,” he told “I think that was super important to me. In that process, God was showing me my heart and shaping me to become the person I am now. I think I needed those two years to not be in the spotlight.”

O’Connell finally earned a scholarship after being named the starter, and he is now one of the most recognizable faces around West Lafayette, Ind. Even as he seeks to position Purdue for a run at a Big Ten West title in this unconventional 2020 college football season, his priority remains the same: to glorify God on the field and off.

“My faith has influenced my football career in many different ways,” he told His Huddle. “Really, my faith has influenced every aspect of my life. The goal of a Christian life is to give glory to God in every action you do. Obviously, I fall short of that every day and rely on God’s grace and mercy to cover me. But that doesn’t change my goal of trying to give God glory in every action, and that includes football.”

He added, “Every opportunity and experience is a blessing, and I am just trying to decrease myself so that God can increase in me.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” — John 3:30 (ESV)

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