Canadian offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell thought he was poised to take the next step in his NFL career this past season but it all came crashing down when he suffered a devastating foot injury on the fifth day of training camp with the Indianapolis Colts.
“It kind of broke my heart, truthfully. It’d been two years of developing and then I started to really improve my play and I was playing really well. I was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna make the team this year, I might not be starting but I’m gonna be on the 53 (man roster),'” O’Donnell told 3DownNation.
“I thought it might be my time to shine, trying to see all that hard work pay off and all those hours on the field and in the gym. So yeah, it was heartbreaking.”
The native of Red Deer, Alta. was placed on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury and entered a gruelling rehabilitation process that involved multiple surgeries, x-rays, and MRIs. The procedures were the first O’Donnell underwent as he hadn’t previously sustained an injury that kept him out of action for more than a few weeks.
The process was made worse as the young blocker was forced to come to terms with the fact that he would miss the entire season. O’Donnell spent his first two seasons as a professional on the practice roster with the Colts after going unselected in the 2020 NFL Draft. The opportunity to dress for his first career regular season game was going to have to wait for another year.
The six-foot-five, 305-pound blocker recently signed back with the Colts and is looking forward to another opportunity to compete for a spot at guard and tackle. He is fully medically cleared to return to the field and will do so when organized team activities (OTAs) get underway on April 10.
“I think they believe in me and believe in my ability,” said O’Donnell. “I didn’t really have a ton of reps at the end there but I think my reps demonstrated that I’m ready to play and that I can compete at this level. I think they saw that and they’re giving me another shot.”
The injury O’Donnell sustained was similar in nature to the one sustained by Nathan Rourke, who missed eight games as a member of the B.C. Lions this past season. The Canadian quarterback returned for the postseason, though it was clear he hadn’t fully recovered from the injury. Rourke has since signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, an AFC South rival of the Colts.
“He came back really quick, so I don’t know if it was exactly the same,” said O’Donnell. “When he was coming back, I was just starting to walk again without a boot. Maybe it was, I don’t know. There’s different levels to it.”
The 24-year-old stopped in for a visit at the CFL Combine on Friday in Edmonton, where he spends a portion of the off-season. A number of prospects from the University of Alberta, O’Donnell’s alma mater, were performing in front of scouts, while several members of the club’s coaching staff were on hand to watch the event.
Making the jump from U Sports to the NFL is difficult at the best of times but O’Donnell made the transition at an especially challenging time. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow for teams to hold off-season OTAs, which typically serve as an opportunity for rookies to get a head start before training camp.
O’Donnell credits his teammates for helping him make the adjustment to the professional level as a rookie in 2020.
“I had the luxury of being around some fantastic players, some great vets that were supportive and just wanted everyone to be better. A vet tackle in my first year, Anthony Castonzo, he’s a great guy and was always willing to help. Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith, those guy in particular were a huge help my first year mentoring me,” said O’Donnell.
“They were always taking the time to show me something with technique or something I need to improve. They were extremely helpful. Those guys are great and they were really fundamental to my development and stopped me from making rookie mistakes like shutting down or not trying to push through some adversity.”