Carter O’Donnell stood on the turf at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, not quite sure what to make of it all.
The six-foot-six, 315-pound lineman from Red Deer was in awe of the packed baseball stadium, converted to football for the East-West Shrine Bowl.
O’Donnell was invited to participate in the game on Jan. 18, which featured some of the top American football talent getting together for an all-star week and game. He was one of just two U Sports athletes invited.
In the beginning, the crowd, the field and the noise was unique, but mostly, it was just football for the Red Deer product.
“It was like playing a different game learning as I went. It was pretty cool. A little different, some of the steps were different and some of the meshes on our double teams. The linebackers fire much quicker than what I was used to,” he said.
“I found it much faster. They have a much larger talent pool down there. They have better athletes consistently down there.”
— JC Abbott (@JC_AbbottCFL) January 18, 2020
Although his group lost 31-27, O’Donnell, who started at right tackle for Team West, drew some praise from his University of Alberta Golden Bears coach Chris Morris, as well as long-time CFL player personnel director and national scout Craig T. Smith.
“He’s looking good. Strong, good hands, slides well. Battles. Does not look out of place at all,” Smith tweeted.
Morris added, “Dominant performance put on by Carter O’Donnell. Great on the run and pass. There is no doubt now that he is firmly on the NFL’s radar if this was not already the case.”
The event was actually a week-long extravaganza of activity in Florida for the University of Alberta fourth-year education student.
From signing autographs and public appearances to working with hall of fame coaches, O’Donnell went through a bit of the star treatment for a week. Pro Football Hall of Famer Will Shields, who started 231 consecutive games from 1993-2006 for the Kansas City Chiefs, was one of his coaches. Willie McGinest, a Hall of Fame linebacker, who won three super bowls with the New England Patriots, had some advice for the Canadian.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) January 18, 2020
“He came over and showed me some stuff out of the blue, that was super cool,” recalled O’Donnell.
This week, it was back to the cold and studying for the Canada West All-Star. But before that, he got another piece of good news, as he was invited to participate in the CFL Combine from March 26-28.
“I’m excited, it’s going to be a good experience,” he said.
O’Donnell also had some discussion with NFL teams during the week at the Shrine Bowl and his play generated some interest.
It could even lead to an invitation to the NFL Draft Combine, which takes place at the end of February.
“It is a possibility, just don’t know quite yet,” he added.
For now, O’Donnell is back to hitting the gym in Edmonton, studying and getting back to his regular routine after the star status of last week.