One of the biggest days in the American football college season took place in the Sun Life Stadium, Miami on New Year’s Day last as the North Illinois Huskies took on Florida State Seminoles in front of a packed house of over 72,000. The ‘Orange Bowl’ series final saw two of the best sides from the Atlantic Coast Conference go head-to-head for one of the most coveted prizes in college football.
Son of two Longford ex-pats, John and Kathleen Conlon from Castlebrock near Ballinalee, Aidan Conlon started the game at right guard in the Illinois offensive line. The 19-year-old, from Flossmoor, a suburban village in Cook County, Illinois is one of the brightest young stars in the Huskies roster.
Despite having won twelve of their last thirteen games leading up to the big game, North Illinois, from the local University College in the same state, came up short against their Florida based opponents, suffering a 31-10 defeat to the Seminoles.
“It was a very disappointing defeat,” says Aidan as he looks back. “It was a great day to be involved in playing in front of such a big crowd but those are the games you want to win. Although the game was very close, unfortunately we just came short.”
Aidan, whose grandmother Mary Conlon still resides in Ballinalee, returned to college this week to continue his second of a four year Engineering Technology undergraduate course. Although the football season is currently facing into a pre-season period before competitive games return in September, Aidan and his teammates’ preparation will begin in the coming weeks. “Our regular season returns in the fall (autumn) but we’ll begin conditioning and weights training in the next few weeks,” he says. “Although it’s tough and there’s a lot of running and not much ball time, we all enjoy it a lot.”
With grandmothers residing in both Longford and Charlestown in north Mayo, Aidan makes regular pilgrimages back to his roots along with his parents and brother Kevin (22) and sister Susan (15).
“I’ve been to Ireland and to Longford and Charlestown five times and first thing I noticed was that it really was not what people here in the US told me it was like.
It’s hard to explain to people over here when you come from a big city and you visit Ireland, especially when you drive into the countryside. You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been. It’s magnificent.”
Aidan has high hopes for the future as far as his sporting career is concerned. With scouts from both the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks, two of NFL’s (National Football League) biggest names watching on during the Orange Bowl, the young right guard knows his big chance might not be far from his grasp.
With most NFL scouts searching for players during their senior college years (years three and up), Aidan still has plenty of time to impress. “It’s obviously a dream to play pro-football. A lot of the guys on our team have been getting recognition from the bigger sides. It was only after the game (Orange Bowl) that my brother Kevin told me there were scouts from the Bears and Seahawks at the game. I just have to keep working hard and hope something comes my way.”