Former Southeast player sees field with Patriots

Monday, November 30, 2009

Perseverance paid off for former Southeast football player Dan Connolly as he earned his first NFL start Nov. 15.

Connolly, an offensive lineman for the New England Patriots, got the nod at right guard at Indianapolis in a game the Colts won 35-34 with a late rally. He again was in the starting lineup last week in a win over the Jets.

Connolly saw his first significant career action the previous week against Miami when center Dan Koppen was injured in the second quarter. Connolly drew rave reviews for his performance in replacing Koppen as the Patriots piled up 432 yards.

"He stepped in and did a great job," quarterback Tom Brady told the Enterprise newspaper of Brockton, Mass., following the Miami game. "It's not an easy thing to do -- step in at center and make all the calls. You go from being out of the game to the guy that's making all the line calls."

Connolly, inactive for the better part of his first four NFL seasons with two teams, has become a versatile performer in his fifth campaign with his ability to play several spots in the offensive line, at fullback, tight end and on special teams.

The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Connolly played in four games on special teams as a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005 and spent all of 2006 on Jacksonville's injured reserve list before being released that summer.

Connolly spent all of 2007 on the Patriots' practice squad. He made the Patriots' opening-day roster last year but was inactive for the first five games before being released and signed to New England's practice squad.

After spending seven weeks on the practice squad, Connolly again was signed to New England's active roster. He was inactive for two games, then finally made his Patriots' debut in the 2008 season finale at Buffalo, playing on special teams.

"I'd say the biggest thing with Dan is he came from a small school," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the Enterprise. "Not a great football background in terms of level of competition and seeing the things that we see.

"The thing about Dan is, he's smart, he works hard, he's got good skills. I think his progress has improved gradually, but in the last six to eight months he's taken a big jump."

It's great to see Connolly, who originally made the NFL as an undrafted free agent, coming on so strong.

Missouri's Grant Ressel from Jackson is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza award, given to the nation's top kicker. The sophomore entered the weekend ranked first nationally in field-goal accuracy and increased it during a 41-39 win over Kansas.

Ressel went 4 for 4 against the Jayhawks, including the game-winning 27-yard boot on the final play. He is now 24 of 25 as he broke the school single-season record for field goals of 21 set by Jeff Wolfert, the NCAA record holder for career accuracy.

It's been nothing short of an amazing first year for Ressel as MU's regular kicker.

Another college football player with local ties recently received a nice honor.

Waylon Richardet, a St. Vincent graduate who is a junior defensive lineman at Missouri State, was named to the all-Missouri Valley Conference second team.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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