Making A New Mark

Team captain that made 77 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 1.5 QB sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two interceptions as a standout senior linebacker at St. Thomas Aquinas, Conor O'Neill's rocky freshman season ended on an upswing, moving to safety for the University of Wisconsin.

Badger Nation: The last time we saw you, you were looking forward to be a dominant linebacker. Now moved to safety, do you feel this is a good switch for you?

Conor O'Neill: I feel like it is. It was hard for me to put on weight in the fall. When the flu hit the whole team, I got hit bad. Me and my roommate (A.J. Fenton) were one of the first ones hit and I lost 20 pounds. It was hard to get it back. I really feel like this is a good move for me.

Badger Nation: Take me back to that preparation week for Fresno State. What did you guys feel like you were going through? You had nurses with masks on and guys stuck in quarantine.

Conor O'Neill: It was funny. The first day it happened, a couple of people were just coughing. Me and A.J. were feeling like crap. The next day in the locker room and the training room, just seeing the nurses and everybody involved, it was just a weird experience.

Badger Nation: It is hard enough being a freshman and you are trying to get used to everything, but what's it like when you are trying to learn everything and you have that happen?

Conor O'Neill: It doesn't help, that's for sure. It gives you more obstacles than you already had. I mean, first being away from home and having to deal with a whole new system, whole new coaches and being able to adjust to the defense, that's hard enough in itself. Then when you are sick and you are missing time, and people all over are missing time, it makes everything really hectic.

Badger Nation: You lost a lot of weight, a position change and you redshirt. How important was winter conditioning for you getting back that mentality and making strides?

Conor O'Neill: I put most of the weight back on, so that was a help. I weight around 200 pounds, so that's good safety weight. Winter conditioning, winter weights definitely helped out a lot. Me and a couple teammates would go up and watch film every now and then. I think that helped me out figuring out the schemes and the safety position as much as I could on my own. I do feel like I am stronger now, like I can do a lot more things than I could at this time last year.

Badger Nation: You moved to safety during bowl prep after Coach Bielema, Coach Partridge and Coach Doeren felt it would be beneficial to you. Was it hard for you to take right away, seeing as you had such a good linebacker career at St. Thomas Aquinas?

Conor O'Neill: At first, it was kind of heartbreaking because I loved linebacker. At the same time, I felt like it was another opportunity to get on the field quicker and I felt like it was a better opportunity for me to get on the field. It was a little hard to have to go on scout team and teach myself the position, not getting so much coaching as much as being told what to do and where to go. I feel like spring time has really helped a lot, getting coaching time with Coach Ash, Coach Doeren and Coach Strickland has helped me out a lot.

Badger Nation: Have you been excited with what you have been able to accomplish the last two weeks?

Conor O'Neill: Yes. I still feel that I have a lot, a lot, a lot of room to grow, but the coaches have definitely been helping me out a lot. Everyday, we're taking things in stride and trying to get as much done as we can.

Badger Nation: You have talked to Chris Maragos quite a bit about the change in positions, since he thrived in his switch to the position. What were some of things he relayed to you about making the change?

Conor O'Neill: He told me that everyday is not going to be a great day. Some days you are going to struggle, there are going to be bad days, but you just have to take it as it is and try to keep growing. Me and Jay Valai helped me a lot when I first switched and have helped me during spring ball. I watched film with them, talk to them, pick their minds and both of them have helped me out a lot in the transition.

Badger Nation: When you first met him, what did you think of Chris Ash and what do you think of him now with him right in your ear?

Conor O'Neill: At first, from what Coach Partridge and Coach Doeren told me, I felt like he was going to be a good fit for us and help me out a lot. Seeing him on the field, I love his energy. I love how much he's able to coach us. He's a real vocal coach, but I feel that it's a great thing for me. I get to hear him before every play and after every play. He's able to critique on almost everything that I do.

Badger Nation: What's the goal moving forward for you?

Conor O'Neill: First, I want to somewhat perfect the position. I want to do as much as I can to help out the team as much as possible. I know we have Jay – three-year starter on our team – but at the same time, I am fighting to get on the field on special teams and back him up. Whatever I can do to help out, I want to do that.

Badger Nation: I want to ask you lastly about one of your former teammates in high school who is going to become your teammate again this summer. What is James White bringing to this program?

Conor O'Neill: He's bringing a lot of versatility. He's a guy that can run and catch passes out of the backfield. He can run up the middle, he's really shifty, he's compact and has lighting speed. He's going to be a good little switch up for us.

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