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Kevin O’Connell, who played quarterback at La Costa Canyon High School and San Diego State, is 8-1 in his first season as Minnesota Vikings head coach. Courtesy photo
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LCC great riding high with NFL’s Vikings

It’s a well-worn jab by Kevin O’Connell, one that displays his humility although it does come with a smidgen of truth.

“I’ve used this joke before, but my career as a player provided a great platform for me as a coach,” O’Connell said. “Because I did spend a lot of time watching games from the sidelines.”

O’Connell played often and well while starring at La Costa Canyon High and San Diego State. After a less-celebrated career in the NFL as a 2003 third-round pick, O’Connell is proving to be a first-rate coach with the Minnesota Vikings.

Despite not racking up impressive NFL numbers, it was clear O’Connell was dialed in.

He played (and we use that term loosely) for five teams, including the San Diego Chargers, tossing a total of six passes in five seasons. But O’Connell’s mannerisms, his communication skills and his IQ, on the field and off, displayed his numerous qualities that underscored his potential to lead players.

Bill Belichick, the legendary New England Patriots coach, was the man who drafted O’Connell, or KOC, into the league. The demanding Belichick never varnished his observations and that was true after his evaluation of O’Connell.

“Hey, you’re not very good as a quarterback,” Belichick told him. “But you’re going to be a hell of a coach someday.”

O’Connell is breaking his head coaching seal with the Vikings, the first time he’s been in that position at any level. He checked off the required boxes before reaching the top spot, being an offensive assistant with four teams, including last year when helping guide the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl 56 title.

Then came this year, with his profile rising in being asked to resurrect one of the NFL’s premier franchises as the 10th head coach in team history.

The stunning result through the first nine games has some shocked Vikings fans contacting their optometrist. They see their Vikings atop the NFC North standings at 8-1 and are wondering what happened to their keen vision?

Those Vikings faithful, who have seen their team miss the playoffs the last two seasons, can’t be sure they’re hearing things right, either.

“I am committed to working tirelessly to bring them a Super Bowl championship,” O’Connell said.

Bet against the enthusiastic O’Connell, 37, at your own risk.

After watching him shine up close with LCC in football and basketball, where he was the football team’s MVP, and SDSU, where he concentrated on football and was a four-year captain, and his meteoric rise since 2015 through the NFL coaching ranks, the smart money might lean O’Connell’s way.

“The culture that has been created here has been a breath of fresh air,” said Adam Thielen, the Vikings’ Pro Bowl wide receiver. “When you get on the field and start running through stuff, you’re like, ‘Man, this is fun, this is exciting.’”

That was true on Sunday when the Vikings somehow pulled out a 33-30 overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills in what was clearly the most thrilling game of the NFL season. A number of improbable occurrences had to unfold in the game’s closing minutes for visiting Minnesota to erase a 17-point deficit and prevail.

But with O’Connell at the helm, the Vikings had no intention of quitting before the miracle comeback.

O’Connell is proving Belichick right, as KOC earns his stripes in a remarkable rookie coaching season.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports.