The Patriots drafted soft-spoken right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan out of the University of California in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. The Susanville, California native missed just one game in his fouryear collegiate career, and was a two-time All-Pac-10 first team selection. As a senior at Cal, Pac-10 defensive linemen voted him the best offensive lineman in the conference.
The 6-foot-8-inch, 330-pound rookie has made an immediate impact for the Patriots, starting six of the first seven games at right tackle this season. He sat down with us to talk about protecting Tom Brady, playing through pain and his long-term plans for after football.
You were thrown right into the fire as a starter in Week 1. Is it easier to get up to speed as a rookie when you're playing in the games?
I think everyone tries to get better every week, both mentally and physically. And you get better by playing in the games, sure, but you have to try to learn all you can in practice, because if you go into a game and get surprised, it's not a good thing. Even if you're not on the field, you have to know what you need to know if you were playing, and prepare like you're playing. The experience you get by playing the games is great, but you try to be up to speed before the game starts.
It must be nice to not change positions coming out of college, like some linemen have to do.
It makes life a little bit easier, but I'm also learning other spots in case something happens and things get shuffled around. Most people play one position but know a couple of others. But it is nice to have played mostly in the same position that I did in college.
What is it like to be one of the guys protecting Tom Brady?
It's more of an honor than anything. I have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time behind me, and it's my job to protect him. His livelihood, my livelihood and everyone around us depend on it.
Do you have to bring a certain mentality to a position where you may only get noticed if you mess up? Do you have to be the type of person that isn't affected by that?
You have to care about it, but if you mess up during the game, you just have to go on to the next play. If you sit there and dwell on the last play, you're just going to mess up again. You have to just let it go, and then after the game, watch the tape and say 'Okay, what can I do better?'
There is an obvious camaraderie among the offensive linemen here. As a rookie, do you have to crack that nut or do they just accept you right away?
You have to be able to jell with the other linemen. It's not tough, because you work so closely with each other. We're a close group of guys. Offensive linemen play one of those positions where you're never on your own. You're always working with someone else and they're counting on you to do your job right, and it helps when you know the person and know how they do things.
In that way, it's easy to get to know each other, because it helps you do your job. I'm still a rookie - don't get me wrong - but I think I'm slowly becoming one of the guys.
Do you look up to any of the other guys in particular?
Probably Steve Neal, because we play right next to each other.We talk on the line during the game more than anyone because he is right there on my left, and I've spent a lot of time working with him.
How about when you were younger, was there a lineman you looked up to?
Honestly, I was like any other kid and didn't pay a whole lot of attention to offensive linemen. But I had the opportunity when I was a senior at Cal to meet [former Jaguars tackle] Tony Boselli. I had lunch with him. Talking to him opened my eyes and motivated me.
Linemen are known as the blue collar, get-it-done-and-don't-complain types. You're like that. You fought through injuries at Cal and only missed one game. Does it take someone with a high threshold for pain to play on the line, or is it just that the type of people who play on the offensive line are tough to begin with?
I don't know if you have to have a high threshold for pain or if that's expected of you as a lineman, but most offensive lineman that are good and want to be out there play through pain. If you want to play, you're going to have to play through pain, and that's true at any position really. It's just something you have to deal with as an athlete. It doesn't always feel good, but you deal with it. I don't know of anyone on this team who isn't willing to play through pain. Of course, some guys that have significant injuries, I think, reach a point where they say enough is enough. I know in Tony Boselli's case his shoulder injuries got to the point where he had to stop if he wanted to be able to play with his kids. I don't blame him one bit.
Is that something you think about?
I'm not really worried about that right now. Of course, I would like to be able to play with my kids some day, but I'm only 23.
How is it being young and living in a completely new area like this?
Since I didn't know anyone, my best friend from high school moved out here. He worked for a cell phone company out west that also does business here, so he said 'Why not?' and transferred. It's been fun.
You're 6-feet-8-inches. When you're out, do you get asked a lot if you play basketball?
No. The people around here are educated enough about sports to know that very few 330-pound guys play basketball. Back in California, there were some people who would ask me if I played basketball. I actually did play basketball at one point, but I gave it up. I couldn't move fast enough.
What do you want to do after football?
I'm interested in real estate. Further down the line, I'd like to have a vineyard.
That's very Northern California.
Yeah. My family has a small vineyard. Someday I'd like to add on or do something on my own. But I have no idea how to be successful in that industry yet.
Is that something you start to explore now?
Yeah, maybe starting this offseason. Right now I have too much to learn here to worry about that.