Connolly makes Jaguars' final cut

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

The former Southeast lineman survived the preseason after signing as a free agent.

Dan Connolly always felt like he was snubbed regarding his football career, which simply pushed him to work that much harder.

Connolly's persistence and determination have paid off with a job in the National Football League.

The former Southeast Missouri State standout, who completed his eligibility in 2004, survived the Jacksonville Jaguars' final cuts over the weekend as NFL teams had to trim their rosters to the opening-day limit of 53.

Connolly will join two other former Southeast stars in the NFL. Willie Ponder is entering his third season with the New York Giants after leading the NFL in kickoff returns last year, while center Eugene Amano is entering his second season with the Tennessee Titans after starting two games and playing in 13 others as a rookie in 2004.

"It feels really good. I guess you could say it's a dream come true," Connolly said. "And it's great to have three SEMO guys in the NFL. It's something to be proud of."

Connolly, a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who is listed as a backup guard for Jacksonville, survived some fairly steep odds to stick with the Jaguars.

After not being drafted in April, Connolly signed as a free agent. The St. Louis native proceeded to beat out, among others, two veterans whose combined NFL experienced totaled more than 20 years.

In addition, among the 12 undrafted free agents signed by the Jaguars, only Connolly and one other player made the 53-man roster.

"I guess I beat out a 13-year veteran and a nine-year veteran," Connolly said. "The odds were definitely against me. I'm pretty proud."

According to Connolly, having the odds stacked against him is nothing new. Coming out of Marquette High School, several major programs recruited him but never offered scholarships. Then, when it came time for the draft, he was regarded as a likely pick -- but never got selected.

Heck, Connolly pointed out that he never even gained enough respect at Southeast to make first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference. A four-year starter, Connolly was second-team all-OVC in each of his four seasons at Southeast.

"Coming out of high school, I felt I should have gone bigger," Connolly said. "I had a great experience at SEMO, but even there, I was snubbed on the postseason honors. Then the draft, and I was snubbed there."

Connolly said he never really gave the NFL much thought until about his junior season at Southeast. Then, prior to his senior campaign, he began getting serious after a conversation with coach Tim Billings.

"My junior year, I started realizing I had a shot," Connolly said. "Before my senior year, I went into coach Billings' office and asked him if I was good enough for the NFL, or am I just wasting my time. He told me I was good enough. After that, I really went for it."

Connolly had a strong preseason camp working at both guard and center, and he drew praise from Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, who told prior to the team's final exhibition game last week, "He's been unfazed playing against two of the best defensive tackles [Marcus Stroud and John Henderson] in the league. He's been solid. He's done a good job for us so far."

Still, Connolly was far from comfortable over the weekend as the Jaguars had to make their final roster cuts.

"I kind of relate it to the draft. I was on the bubble," Connolly said, laughing. "I just sat watching my phone, hoping it wouldn't ring, because they're only going to call if they cut you. I finally saw on the Web site that I made the team."

As Connolly anxiously awaits the Jaguars' season opener Sunday at home against Seattle, he doesn't yet know what his role will be -- and likely won't know from week to week.

While all NFL teams have 53-man rosters, they are allowed to dress out only 45 for each game, with the other eight being deemed inactive. Connolly is one of nine Jacksonville offensive linemen, and he figures the squad will probably only dress out seven or eight for each contest.

"From week to week, you really never know what's going to happen," Connolly said.

But no matter what the season brings, Connolly is determined to continue working hard to prove his worth as an NFL player.

"I definitely feel good about it, but I'm still not to the point where I can relax," he said. "My job is constantly on the line. I have to keep that attitude throughout the season."


* Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who played at Southeast from 2001 through 2003 before transferring and completing his eligibility last season at Division II Tuskegee, was signed to the Washington Redskins' practice squad Monday.

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