Ypsilanti – You can’t blame Pat O’Connor for being optimistic going into his senior year at Eastern Michigan.
After all, O’Connor will be on the field, playing for the Eagles after missing all of last season due to an injury.
O’Connor is an impact player when healthy. He was second in the Mid-American Conference with 7.5 sacks his junior year from his defensive line spot in 2014 to earn All-MAC first-team honors.
O’Connor would love nothing more than to go out a winner, helping EMU earn its first winning season since 1995.
“It was difficult at first, knowing it’s your senior year and not being able to play,” said O’Connor of his injury (labrum). “It was definitely difficult, but I kind of sought out a positive in it all. So I’m just excited to be back and have another opportunity to go back at it and be even stronger.”
O’Connor said he suffered his injury in spring ball and “had the opportunity to either get surgery then or see how things played out. I decided to see if it healed up, but it didn’t fully heal, and then it popped out two weeks prior to the season opener. It’s better now and I’m stronger than ever.”
O’Connor is looking forward to playing for new EMU defensive coordinator Neal Neathery. Neathery’s defenses averaged 21 turnovers during his six years at Texas-San Antonio, including 14 interceptions last season.
“I feel like this year will be our year,” O’Connor said. “We have a whole bunch of returners on both sides of the ball. I feel like the pieces of the puzzle are there.
“We brought in Coach Neathery and we’re looking forward to playing for him. We used to be a three-man front and now we’re a four-man front. Everyone loves the new defense. I’d say our personnel fits and we have depth, and that was a problem in the past.
“We have two stacks of defensive linemen that are ready to play right now. Jeremiah Harris, who hurt his hand a few games into the season and had to sit out the rest of the year, is back at defensive end. Luke MacLean is very good and so are Mike Brown and Kwanii Figueroa.”
The Eagles enter the season with a 14-game MAC losing streak. They are coming off a 1-11 season where they gave up 528.9 yards a game and now might be playing for head coach Chris Creighton’s job.
After all, head coaches usually don’t survive double-digit losing seasons their first three years, and Creighton is 2-10 and 1-11. The Eagles are 3-29 in the MAC the last four season, their worst four-year stretch since 1980-83.
The Eagles will face adversity heading into the season opener against Mississippi Valley State Sept. 2 at Rynearson Stadium with redshirt junior quarterback Brogan Roback suspended for at least one game. Backups Todd Porter and James Pensyl have no game experience.
Last season: 1-11 (0-8 MAC West)
Coach: Chris Creighton (third year, 3-21; 142-67 overall, 20 years)
Notable: The Eagles need some positive vibes after entering the season with a 14-game MAC losing streak, the loss of starting quarterback Brogan Roback for the opener due to a suspension for breaking team rules, and the resignation of strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery. Creighton brought in defensive coordinator Neal Neathery from Texas-San Antonio to help improve a defense that gave up an average of 528.9 yards per game, including 595 in a 58-28 loss to Western Michigan. Neathery’s defense forced an average of 21 turnovers during his six years at Texas-San Antonio.
Top players: Pat O’Connor, Sr., DL, returning after missing ’15 season due to an injury, All-MAC first-team in 2014; Brogan Roback, Sr., QB, 330 yards passing, 2 TDs in win over Wyoming; Shaq Vann, RS So., RB; 586 yards, 5 TDs; Jason Beck, Jr., S, 80 tackles; Luke Maclean, RS Jr., DT, 10 tackles for loss.