Depending on traffic and the 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, that trek seemed miles and miles away.
“In high school, I had aspirations of playing in the NFL,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But I never thought it was a realistic opportunity.”
O’Shaughnessy made his formal debut Monday with the Bears at OTAs, and he’s officially back home.
The metaphorical leap is not lost on the 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end who was a fifth-round draft choice in 2015 by the Kansas City Chiefs.
O’Shaughnessy, who signed a one-year deal with the Bears as a free agent, has played 57 games in seven NFL seasons with the Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars, including 34 starts.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in this league for some time,” said O’Shaughnessy, who has 112 catches for 1,108 yards and three touchdowns in his career. “To have the opportunity to come home for the team I grew up watching is the definition of a dream.
“It’s a sentence you write in a children’s book.”
Several factors played into O’Shaughnessy coming back home.
Ryan Boles, the Bears’ new general manager, was the college scouting director for Kansas City when O’Shaughnessy was drafted by the team.
Marmion graduate Brad Childress was a member of Andy Reid’s coaching staff during O’Shaughnessy’s two seasons playing for the Chiefs.
O’Shaughnessy attended Marmion his first two years of high school before transferring to Naperville North, where he graduated in 2010.
“I had another visit prior to my meeting with the Bears,” he said. “Having my hometown team show interest, as soon as I heard that, my agent jumped on the opportunity to see if we might make something happen.”
His return home illustrates a remarkable story of persistence and resilience after O’Shaughnessy received just one scholarship offer as a senior from Illinois State.
“He was really competitive from the get-go,” retired Naperville North basketball coach Mark Lindo said. “I think he could have played college basketball.
“The fact he has stayed in the league does not surprise me because of his work ethic. He was always a goal-oriented person.”
O’Shaughnessy arrived at Naperville North in fall 2008, the year after the Huskies won the Class 8A state championship.
At that time, Sean Drendel was the defensive coordinator under longtime coach Larry McKeon. Drendel took over when McKeon retired.
“The whole program at North during that time had a great group of coaches,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Had a tradition of how the game should be played and the standards they expected us to play at.
“When I got to Illinois State, I realized some of the things they taught really carried over like being a selfless player and doing whatever it takes to make sure your team wins.”
The triple-option offense McKeon ran at Naperville North also proved ideal in O’Shaughnessy’s growth and development.
“At Illinois State, when I made the transition to tight end, being asked to block was not something foreign to me or something I was unwilling to do,” he said.
When he graduated from Illinois State in 2015, O’Shaughnessy already was 6-4 and 245.
Positionally, he was in the right place at the right time as the NFL began accelerating its evolution from a run-oriented game to wide-open passing.
The tight end became an important position.
“I was really fortunate to come into the league when I did,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Especially my first team being Kansas City, a team that used so many tight ends.
“I got to see how the position has evolved. Overall, the whole league is now looking for tight ends to exploit matchups and have versatility in the offense. I lucked out in that fashion.”
Playing in a league where the average career is just 3.3 years, O’Shaughnessy has proved to be durable and effective. Now 30, he also is a 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.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play a wide tight end, a blocking tight end, a passing end,” he said. “I was a special-teams player with double-figure tackles.
“My greatest strength is my ability to do whatever is asked of me to the best of my ability.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.