Red Deer minor football product Carter O’Donnell, who has played the last four seasons for the University of Alberta Golden Bears, is one of the top-ranked prospects eligible for the 2020 CFL Draft in April. (Photo courtesy of University of Alberta Golden Bears)

Red Deer’s Carter O’Donnell on CFL and NFL radar

Just the other week, Carter O’Donnell’s phone rang.

Not unusual, until he found out who was calling.

It was the Los Angeles Rams. Of the National Football League.

“I woke up and I had a phone call and it was the L.A. Rams. It was so weird,” he recalled.

“It’s crazy, I never thought I’d be here.”

O’Donnell, a Red Deer minor football product, is still in somewhat of a daze over all the attention.

The fourth-year offensive lineman with the University of Alberta Golden Bears has risen to heights he never thought possible and mostly didn’t dream of.

Tuesday, the six-foot-six, mild-mannered football player was ranked among the top players for the 2020 Canadian Football League draft.

O’Donnell was on the original list in September, ranked 11th by the CFL Scouting Bureau among the top-20 prospect eligible for the draft on April 30.

This week, he was fourth, behind defensive tackle Neville Gallimore, receiver Chase Claypool and quarterback Nathan Rourke. He was top offensive lineman, the top-ranked U Sports athlete and the only Albertan on the list.

“After the first scouting report that came out, just after the east-west game, as soon as that came out, they ranked me 12 or something like that,” he said about when the journey to pro football started to seem somewhat real.

“It was kind of surreal seeing yourself on something like that. I never really thought of myself as a great football player.”

At his position, the 21-year-old has an interesting perspective about measuring progress. Since there aren’t many trackable stats for an offensive lineman, O’Donnell tries to look at the game and execute every one of his reps well.

“The way I think it about it is it doesn’t really matter how many great plays you have, it’s really how many bad plays. That’s how I measure it,” he said.

“You can go out there and have a game where 90 per cent of your reps are incredible and 10 per cent are terrible, you’re not doing a great job. If every rep is good, it’s almost better to have that.”

In the overall team progress, you can start to see his impact.

This year, the Golden Bears had a 4-4 record in the Canada West, the first time they had won more than three games in a season in the last decade. For his part, O’Donnell was named a Canada West All-Star and first-team All-Canadian. He helped anchor an offence that averaged 399 yards of total offence and picked up 5.2 yards per rush.

“When I came in, I was 17 years old, (I was) playing against some guys who were 23 or 25,” he said.

“That’s a big age gap, as you get older, you get more settled in, a little stronger and a better understanding of the game. I owe it all to my coaches… they put a lot of trust in me and a lot of support.”

He’s come a long way from the Grade 6 kid who had to pester his mom to go out and try the sport. O’Donnell went on to play high school at Lindsay Thurber and even when the Golden Bears scouted him, he found it hard to believe he’d play at the next level.

“I never even thought playing university was an option until I started to get scouted a little bit. Once I got here, they said I had a lot of talent, I didn’t really believe them until later. I never thought any of this would be possible,” he said.

With a lightened course load this year, O’Donnell has figures he has three or four more semesters to finish his combined Science and Education degree. The CFL Combine in March is the next big date on the calendar. After that, both the CFL and NFL Draft follow in the last week of April. From there, those final few semesters might have to wait on football.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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