STORRS - August 13, 2018 is a date that UConn running back Donevin O’Reilly remembers well.
On that day, the Glastonbury native tore the ACL in his left knee, ending his season before it even began.
“I don’t want to say defeat, because I wasn’t defeated,” O’Reilly said on how he felt that day. “But just disappointment.”
The injury was just another hurdle that O’Reilly, a redshirt senior, has had to overcome in his career. But like all the other times, O’Reilly has battled back.
“During that time, I knew I could only be disappointed for a certain period of time because I had surgery four days after I tore my ACL,” O’Reilly said. “As soon as I had surgery, it was right back to working. I knew that getting back was just as important as the work I had done previously. I knew I had to try and get right back on my feet as soon as they would let me.”
O’Reilly graduated from Glastonbury High in 2015 and played football as a freshman at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. He played primarily on special teams, recording five tackles in seven games.
As the fall semester ended, O’Reilly left the school.
“I came home and was taking classes at MCC,” O’Reilly said. “I was a part-time student. After the spring semester of my freshman year, during that time I had applied to UConn.”
O’Reilly began classes at UConn in the fall of 2016, but it wouldn’t be until the next fall that he returned to football.
As a walk-on in 2017, O’Reilly saw action in two games. In a 37-20 loss to South Florida, O’Reilly attempted his only rush in a Husky uniform, a 3-yard gain. Two weeks later, O’Reilly returned two kickoffs for 31 yards and recorded a tackle in UConn’s 39-16 loss to Boston College at Fenway Park.
On the first day of practice last summer, O’Reilly was summoned to coach Randy Edsall’s office, when he learned he had earned a scholarship.
“It wasn’t like a big reveal,” O’Reilly said. “I was in Coach Edsall’s office with him and (director of football operations) Ryan Steinberg. That’s when he told me. Although it wasn’t a big deal, obviously it was still a big deal for me.”
For O’Reilly, it was the culmination of his journey.
“Just relief, really,” O’Reilly said. “I feel like all the hard work and my story of how I got here. Being at UConn and not being on the team for a season. Then walking on to the team, then having a good spring and a good fall, then getting a scholarship. It was just good to know that my hard work was paying off.”
Then August 13 came. All the momentum O’Reilly had been building came to a sudden and screeching halt.
Despite his perseverance, O’Reilly wasn’t ready for full-football activity when spring practice arrived last February.
“I was actually out during the spring. I was only in individual drills,” O’Reilly said. “Everything non-contact. During the spring, it was eight, nine months (since the injury), so they didn’t want me to be out there and get hit the wrong way or anything like that. So just strengthening everything.”
Slowly but surely, O’Reilly got himself ready for fall camp.
“Coming into fall camp, it was great being back on the field,” O’Reilly said. “Just being able to play football full-speed, full-contact. So it’s been fun getting back and just being able to play football again.”
Though not the starting running back, O’Reilly is ready to fulfill whatever role is asked of him.
“All I’ve ever done is work,” O’Reilly said. “So I’m just going to keep working. As long as you work, and you just keep working, I know that good things are going to come from that. I know I’m going to see time on the field. So as long as I just do my job and I work, I know good things will come from that. The only thing I can do is work, know my responsibility and just commit to that and commit to the team and do what the coaches expect me to do and just help the team in whatever way possible.”
Edsall seems to be in O’Reilly’s corner.
“As I’ve stated before, Donevin is one of those kids that’s just worked extremely hard,” Edsall said. “You’re really happy to see him get an opportunity, and he’s worked to get an opportunity. He’s earned the right to have the opportunity. I just hope he can stay healthy.”
Despite it being his senior season, there’s only one thing on O’Reilly’s radar.
“I take everything day by day,” O’Reilly said. “Sometimes I look ahead to the future and see that my collegiate career is coming to end. But you just have to live in the now. I’m focused on the game on Thursday (against Wagner). Trying to prepare. Thursday is going to be here before we know it.”