It took a former All-American linebacker in Bloomington, Ind., to notice Barney O’Donnell III. Facing a dual threat quarterback in their next game, the Bloomington Edge’s coaching staff put O’Donnell under center on the scout team.
The 6-foot-1 wideout played quarterback at Cedar Rapids Washington and saw stints under center as a junior at St. Ambrose. O’Donnell whipped the pigskin around the practice field with the crispness that made him The Gazette’s 2006 Athlete of the Year.
“Coach (Kenton) Carr, he really didn’t say much,” O’Donnell said. “Nobody did at the time.”
But Ameer Ismail took note. The Western Michigan product and current Chicago Slaughter linebacker saw O’Donnell’s talent.
“He used to play for Coach ‘L’ – my current coach with the Cavalry. He put the call in,” O’Donnell said. “He said, ‘You need to check out this kid named Barney.’”
Wyoming head coach Mike Layton took Ismail’s word and inked O’Donnell. When the Calvary open their season in Cedar Rapids Friday in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, O’Donnell will be their quarterback.
“I’m trying to think of it as just another game, but it’s not,” O’Donnell said. “It’s really bigger than that. It’s deeper than that.”
After a stint in college with Georgetown and then transferring to St. Ambrose, O’Donnell signed with the Bloomington Edge’s practice squad as a wide receiver. Each new jersey came with the hope of being listed as “QB1.”
O’Donnell left Georgetown after one season, and then wound up at St. Ambrose as “QB3″ and wide receiver.
“This is to everyone in my life that said I couldn’t be calling the plays,” O’Donnell said. “I thank Coach ‘L’ and the Wyoming Cavalry, literally from the bottom of my heart, really because this is a dream come true.”
O’Donnell last played quarterback in a game two years ago as a junior at St. Ambrose, when injuries allowed him an opportunity. He finished his collegiate career at wide receiver as a senior.
This season marked the first time since playing at Washington he entered the year as the starter.
The Cavalry began training camp about two weeks ago in Las Vegas. It helped O’Donnell get acclimated to the IFL style of play. But camp left one major hurdle: the size of the field.
“It’s kind of funny, I really have no idea. We haven’t even practiced on an arena field yet,” O’Donnell said.
The Cavalry had a walk-through Thursday in the CRIA, which allowed O’Donnell to get his first taste of the smaller-sized field.
Friday the pint-sized playing surface will act as a fish bowl for O’Donnell’s return home. He’ll have “quite a few” family members and friends in attendance for his professional debut.
“It’s kind of crazy. I’m the quarterback and my team is going against the grain of my own society,” O’Donnell said. “It’s just another day in the life I guess. It feels way too familiar. Frankly, I think fate is the only real explanation.”
The homecoming started before O’Donnell and his team arrived in Cedar Rapids. The 24-year-old’s phone is filled with well-wishing text messages. They come from people who witnessed his skills at quarterback before and want to see them again.
It’s been a seven-year journey trying to convince non-believers he could play quarterback. Friday he reaches the destination. At the same time he’s creating a new path trying to keep the doubters believing.
“This opportunity means a lot to be able to come back and be a professional athlete, which has always been a dream,” O’Donnell said. “And to have my game be right in Cedar Rapids, is truly just a dream come true and then some. I couldn’t imagine this.”