However, after O’Connor graduated in 2012, he had little interest and no scholarship offers to continue his playing career.
As a result, O’Connor chose to walk on at North Carolina State, and over the summer, O’Connor was informed that he would be receiving a scholarship after all as he enters his redshirt sophomore season with the Wolfpack.
“Everybody was really excited about it,” O’Connor said of the team’s reaction when N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren announced it during camp. “When I came up here, I wasn’t even a preferred walk-on, but I had made the decision that I wanted to play big-time football out of high school. I wasn’t getting recruited, but I wasn’t going to settle for anything less.”
O’Connor played in nine games on special teams for the Wolfpack as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and even saw some time at fullback during the last two games of the year. His performance between the lines in addition to his leadership off the field led the coaching staff to award O’Connor and his good friend Garrett Leatham a scholarship.
“The greatest moment is when you get to change somebody’s life,” Doeren said in a press release. “When you have somebody like Garrett and Devin who have fought to stay in school, taken out student loans and had a job on the side, it’s really great. These guys have over a 3.0 GPA, have each been here over three years. It’s a proud moment as a coach and the team really celebrated it. It’s a great moment for the team and helps us build our walk-on program, too.”
O’Connor’s senior season at defensive end was his best as he recorded 51 solo tackles, 32 assists, eight sacks, nine tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, four batted down passes, five quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one interception for a touchdown. Cartersville’s defense allowed just 10.9 points per game that season.
Despite his accomplishments, O’Connor still could not get a scholarship offer and had to choose which school he would choose to go to and walk on. His finalists were Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and N.C. State.
“I was a leader on our defense, especially my senior year. I had a really good season my senior year, which I think I was a 6-3, 200 pound defensive end. You know, just for whatever reason, I just wasn’t really being looked at by any schools. I just took what I had, believed that I could do it and ended up here,” he said. “It was probably the hardest thing I ever did in my life because it was an uphill battle. I had to tryout for the team and it was challenging. There were a lot of times that I doubted myself but I just kept on with it.
“I’ve learned so much about myself. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I have three years left, but what I’ve accomplished thus far will carry me for the rest of my life.”
On top of earning a scholarship, O’Connor’s hard work and dedication landed him a spot on the Wolfpack’s leadership council, which is a group of players from each position that provides guidance and direction.
“Being elected to the Leadership Council is the ultimate sign of respect, since their teammates vote them into a position of influence,” Doeren said in a press release. “The Leadership Council is the voice of the locker room.”
“I come here every day and work hard and do what they ask of me,” O’Connor said of his recent recognition. “I’ve been contributing to the team and I think [Doeren] looks at me as sort of a leader.”
O’Connor hopes to further contribute to his team as he is currently on punt and kick returns and is practicing at the fullback position after playing defense at Cartersville.
“It was definitely a tough thing, going from defense where you’re avoiding blockers and making tackles to now you’re trying to stay in front of somebody and catch footballs, too,” O’Connor said. “I’m still working on my hands. That was a tough transition. That’s kind of my role. You definitely need a high energy guy.”
N.C. State will play its first game against Georgia Southern on Aug. 30. The Wolfpack are coming off a 3-9 season in 2013.
“My individual goal this year is to just be a leader and be an example for my teammates in whatever role I have. If it’s special teams, if it’s me coming in on third-and-short and trying to get the first down, I just want to be that energy that my teammates can feed off of,” O’Connor said. “We look strong right now. Last year we had somewhat of a disappointing season. A new coaching staff was in, but this year is our second year in the system and everybody is really together, more so than last year I feel like. I’m looking forward to this season. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”