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Aidan O'Connell striving to prove he's more than an underdog story

Aidan O'Connell has already overcome a lot before playing a single down with the Raiders.

The rookie quarterback was a walk-on at Purdue in 2017, initially slated as an eighth-stringer on the depth chart and didn't see action in his first two seasons with the team. By 2020, he earned the starting job before an elbow injury took him out of action three games into the season.

After five seasons of scratching and clawing for his opportunity, he kicked the door down with 3,712 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, a Music City Bowl victory and an All-Big Ten Second Team selection in 2021.

While O'Connell has a mild-mannered, humble demeanor, he wants to be more than just your standard "underdog" story in the NFL. He's in Las Vegas to compete, with the same intensity it took for him to go from a walk-on to a fourth-round draft pick.

"I think it's definitely a new experience now, and there's things you can bring over from college, but at the same time it's a completely new experience," O'Connell told local media Wednesday. "As much as I can rely on what I've been through, at the same time, you've got to look forward and continue to press forward."

"You have to have a proper balance of reflection and also understanding, 'I'm trying to play more football,'" continued O'Connell. "I don't want that to be my story...just getting here. I want to hopefully work as hard as I can to stay. I definitely want to be reflective and be grateful for where I've come from, but at the same time, I think after my career is over we can sit down and think more about that."

He's not only taking his reps on the field seriously, but his work mentally as well. The young quarterback joins a room with veteran quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer leading the way and helping him get acquainted with the offense.

So far in camp practices, O'Connell has shown flashes of his potential as an NFL signal-caller. While still in the process of establishing himself in the huddle, he's learning to consistently make smart decisions with the football and has a quick release on his throws – two traits the team looks for at quarterback in Josh McDaniels' offense.

"He's done a great job," Hoyer said of O'Connell. "[T]his is not an easy offense to learn, especially as a young guy. ... They throw a lot at you, and then you have to try to retain it. He's done a really good job of learning it. He's not making a lot of mental mistakes, which early on - I mean look, when I was a rookie, you're swimming at some point. He's done a great job of staying on schedule, and he does a great job. He's throwing the ball really well."

"Aidan has a lot of physical tools we were excited about to work with and mentally, he's a hard worker," said quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree. "He retains information really well, asks great questions like all the quarterbacks do in the room. That's just a positive thing to work with."

O'Connell has been doing everything in his power to jumpstart his career, with the former Boilermaker's first chance to prove himself in the preseason potentially coming soon against the San Francisco 49ers. He's excited to compete at the highest level, but more importantly wants to bring the best out of his teammates.

"I think it's just another opportunity for our team to work hard and play against somebody different, but I think for us it really remains the same," O'Connell said in anticipation of taking the field at Allegiant Stadium. "We've got to know our assignment, do our job and work hard to do that."

"I try not to put too much pressure on myself," he added. "Just be myself, enjoy the process. At the end of the day, it's just football. I'm going to work as hard as I can, try not to leave any stone unturned – but at the same time enjoy it and fun playing the game."

With the 135th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders selected quarterback Aidan O'Connell.

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