Depending on traffic and time of day, it takes about an hour to drive from Naperville North to the Chicago Bears practice facility in Lake Forest.
But when James O’Shaughnessy was growing up and playing football under the Friday night lights for the Huskies, this hike seemed like miles and miles away.
“In high school, I had aspirations to play in the NFL,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But I never thought it was a realistic opportunity.”
O’Shaughnessy made his official debut on Monday with the Bears at the OTA, and he’s officially back home.
The metaphorical leap isn’t lost on the 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end who was a 2015 fifth-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs.
O’Shaughnessy, who signed a one-year contract with the Bears as a free agent, played 57 games in seven NFL seasons with the Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars, including 34 starts.
“I was lucky to play in this league for a while,” said O’Shaughnessy, who has 112 catches for 1,108 yards and three touchdowns in his career. “Having the opportunity to come home to the team I saw growing up is the definition of a dream.
“It’s a sentence you write in a children’s book.”
Several factors played into O’Shaughnessy’s return home.
Ryan Boles, the Bears’ new general manager, was Kansas City’s director of college scouting when O’Shaughnessy was drafted by the team.
Marmion Brad Childress Graduate was a member of Andy Reid’s coaching staff during O’Shaughnessy’s two seasons with the Chiefs.
O’Shaughnessy attended Marmion for his first two years of high school before transferring to Naperville North, where he graduated in 2010.
“I had another visit before I met the Bears,” he said. “With my hometown team showing interest, as soon as I heard this my agent jumped at the chance to see if we could shake things up.”
His homecoming illustrates a remarkable story of perseverance and resilience after O’Shaughnessy received just one scholarship offer as a senior from Illinois State.
“He was really competitive from the start” Mark Lindo, retired Naperville North basketball coach mentioned. “I think he could have played college basketball.
“The fact that he stayed in the league doesn’t surprise me because of his work ethic. He was always a goal-oriented person.
O’Shaughnessy arrived in Naperville North in the fall of 2008, the year after the Huskies won the Class 8A state championship.
“North’s entire program at that time had a great group of coaches,” O’Shaughnessy said. âHad a tradition of how the game was to be played and the standards they expected us to play.
“When I came to Illinois State, I realized some of the things they taught were really valuable, like being a selfless player and doing whatever it takes to make sure your team won.”
The triple option offense McKeon ran at Naperville North also proved ideal in O’Shaughnessy’s growth and development.
“At Illinois State, when I transitioned to the short end, I wasn’t asked to block anything foreign or anything I didn’t want to do,” a- he declared.
When he graduated from Illinois State in 2015, O’Shaughnessy was already 6-4 and 245.
Positionally, he was in the right place at the right time as the NFL began to accelerate its evolution from a rush-oriented game to a wide-opening pass.
The tight end has become an important position.
“I was really lucky to come into the league at that time,” O’Shaughnessy said. âEspecially my first team being Kansas City, a team that used so many tight ends.
âI could see how the position evolved. Overall, the entire league is now looking for tight ends to exploit matchups and have versatility on offense. I got lucky that way.
Playing in a league where the average career is just 3.3 years, O’Shaughnessy has proven to be durable and effective. Now 30, he is also newlywed.
His wife, Ava, is the sister of Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry, who played at Rockford Boylan and Northwestern.
Being with the Bears is a blessing, and O’Shaughnessy is ready to take advantage of it.
âI had the opportunity to play a wide tight end, a blocking tight end, a passing end,â he said. âI was a special teams player with double-digit tackles.
“My greatest strength is my ability to do whatever is asked of me to the best of my abilities.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance writer for the Naperville Sun.