Most of the focus of the 2023 NFL quarterback draft class has fallen on Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. And deservedly so. But another under-the-radar rookie quarterback was named a starter last week and earned his first career victory on Sunday: Aidan O’Connell of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The 25-year-old completed 16 of 25 passes for 209 yards and helped his team cruise to a 30-6 win against the New York Giants in interim coach Antonio Pierce’s first game.
O’Connell wasn’t intimidated by the bright lights that come with being a starting quarterback in the NFL. On Thursday in the lead-up to the game, he was asked how he would cope with the pressure of being Las Vegas’ starter for the rest of the season. O’Connell pointed to God.
“For me, it’s my faith,” O’Connell said. “I’m a Christian, and I think that in the good and bad in life, there’s a plan. The Lord has obviously brought me to this point and I’ve learned more than anything that when He wants me to play, I’ll play and when He doesn’t, I won’t. I definitely rest in that; that allows me to sleep easy at night.”
“The Lord has brought me to this point.”
Aidan O’Connell speaks on how his faith gives him confidence to step in and perform as a rookie taking over the starting QB job for the Raiders.
— Vegas Sports Today (@VegasSportsTD) November 2, 2023
Prior to Sunday, O’Connell started for the Raiders on Oct. 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. He threw an interception and lost two fumbles in the 24-17 loss. O’Connell took the field again in relief on Oct. 22 against the Chicago Bears, tossing another interception as well as his first touchdown in the 30-12 defeat.
It was a different story on Sunday, as O’Connell took his new role in stride, didn’t commit any turnovers, and repeatedly marched his team down the field for scores. Las Vegas led 24-0 at halftime.
“To have a coaching shift this early on was definitely unexpected,” O’Connell said in his postgame press conference. “I think our guys around me just did a great job instilling confidence in me and allowed my job to be a lot easier.”
Pierce also liked what he saw. “[O’Connell] did a really good job of being poised. He handled the tempo that we had early on,” Pierce said. “… He looked totally different than the guy that first started. Just like any rookie, more opportunities and more reps, the better you get.”
O’Connell’s selection by the Raiders out of Purdue in the fourth round of April’s NFL draft is looking smarter and smarter. Las Vegas’ front office and O’Connell himself are all hoping he will develop into the Raiders’ quarterback of the future.
The path to becoming a starting NFL quarterback has rarely been easy for O’Connell, and certainly not smooth. He was not highly recruited out of Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and had committed to play football at Division-III Wheaton College, but changed his mind and accepted a walk-on offer from Purdue.
In West Lafayette, Indiana, O’Connell wallowed deep on the depth chart for two years. However, following a series of injuries in 2019, O’Connell was named the starter. He was the first walk-on ever to start at quarterback for the Boilermakers, and he didn’t look back.
Tragedy struck the O’Connell family near the end of Aidan’s sixth and final year with the Boilermakers, when his brother, Sean, passed away. Just a few short months later, O’Connell realized a lifelong dream when he heard his name called in the NFL draft.
Throughout O’Connell’s roller coaster of a life and football career, he has sought to stay devoted to God.
“My faith has influenced my football career in many different ways,” he told His Huddle in December 2021. “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.”
In announcing his decision in December 2021 to return to Purdue for a sixth year, he made sure to give glory to God.
“Being able to live out my dream at Purdue has been an unspeakable blessing,” O’Connell began, via Purdue football’s X account. “God has been gracious to me far beyond what I deserve.”
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) December 13, 2021
O’Connell, who calls himself a “Christ Follower” in his Instagram bio, told Purdue University in May 2022 that faith is the center of his life and, if he weren’t a Christian, “I would have gone insane long ago.”
It was during his two years of relative anonymity in college that God was at work in O’Connell’s heart, and He did much of it through the ministry Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which O’Connell regularly attended.
“I try to make sure my words line up with what I believe,” O’Connell told FCA in February 2021. “Even more than that, I try to live in a way that glorifies God. You never know the seeds you’re going to plant in someone’s life.”
O’Connell knows that, now as Las Vegas’ starting quarterback, his words and his actions have perhaps never before had such a large audience. It’s why his boldness about faith leading up to the Raiders’ win over the Giants was so important.
Just as he seeks to capture his second career win at home against the New York Jets (4-4) on “Sunday Night Football,” O’Connell will seek to continue to glorify God in everything he does.
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