SPOKANE, Wash. — After finishing last season as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, Patrick O'Connell is reeling in the accolades before the 2022 season even begins.
O'Connell, a linebacker for the Montana Grizzlies, was named the preseason Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year on Sunday evening as part of the Big Sky Kickoff weekend. O'Connell is the fourth Griz linebacker to earn the preseason award since 2018, joining Josh Buss, Dante Olson and Jace Lewis.
It's another award for O'Connell, whose unorthodox college athletics career saw him begin as a two-sport athlete in football and baseball at NCAA Division II University of Mary in North Dakota before he transferred to Montana and walked on with the football team.
After cracking the rotation in 2019 as a starter, the Kalispell native and Glacier High School graduate racked up 105 total tackles last season including 22 for loss, 14 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, one of which he took back for a score.
O'Connell was joined by UC Davis' Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. as the two preseason players of the year. Gilliam, a running back for the Aggies, was named the preseason Offensive Player of the Year.