Bears rookie punter Pat O’Donnell earning fans and a nickname
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter July 27, 2014 9:33PM
Updated: August 29, 2014 1:14PM
BOURBONNAIS — The ball soared halfway to Kankakee.
More than five seconds later, it fell toward earth, and the crowd erupted with its loudest cheer.
The ball wasn’t thrown by Jay Cutler for a touchdown or kicked by Robbie Gould through the uprights.
It rocketed off the leg of Pat O’Donnell, the Bears’ rookie punter, who took his first step toward reaching legendary status Sunday at Olivet Nazarene University.
As his kicks grew longer, fans hummed with anticipation, bestowing a name upon him: “Mega-Punt.”
They chanted it.
“It’s definitely a cool feeling,” the sixth-round pick out of Miami said. “The punter doesn’t usually get a lot of attention. … It’s good to have the fans involved, having fun out there, just like we are.”
His coaches found the cheering silly, no matter how impressive the kicks.
“Those Miami alums, they’re an enthusiastic bunch,” coach Marc Trestman joked.
The 23-year-old averaged a single-season record of 47.1 yards in 2013 for the Hurricanes.
He’s not even the Bears’ starter yet, though he leads the competition over lefty Tress Way.
“I was thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me over there,’ ” special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said of the cheers. “It was ridiculous. Let’s keep the kid’s feet on the ground so far.”
Getting the ball to him on a line would help, too.
For all the excitement surrounding O’Donnell’s leg, the team’s two long snappers — 10-year Canadian Football League vet Chad Rempel and the unproven Brandon Hartson — struggled mightily on the first day in full pads.
Their snaps missed in all directions; one even sailed over a punter’s head.
If the snaps didn’t improve, DeCamillis hinted the team would look elsewhere, a tough task this early in training camp.
“We’ve got to work through the process and find out who our guy’s gonna be,” DeCamillis said. “Hopefully he’s on the team right now. He may not be. We’ll have to see.”
He insisted he wasn’t concerned: “I’ve been in this position before with young guys.”
O’Donnell said the snaps weren’t “really affecting me that much.” He sympathized in case the snappers shared his first-week jitters.
Those seemed to float away Sunday, though.
Only three practices in, O’Donnell has a nickname — and fans chanting it.
“Hopefully I don’t let them down,” he said. “Hopefully it continues.”