When he started out at St. Rita, Pat Farrell was a three-sport athlete who played football, basketball and baseball.
But as a junior last season, when he began his first varsity football game on the bench, Farrell came to a realization. It was time to go all in on football.
“I had to miss a lot of summer football practices because of travel baseball,” Farrell said. “So, I didn’t start my first varsity game. I missed too many practices to earn the spot. After that, I was like, ‘No, I’m not missing out on starting a game like that again.’
“Then I got my first offer. Everything was out the window then. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to make it in football and I’m going to try to make it big.’”
Farrell has indeed made it big — Big Ten, in fact.
After committing over the summer to Illinois, the senior defensive end made it official Wednesday at the start of the NCAA’s early signing period.
“It feels great,” Farrell said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting to put the pen to paper for a long time now. Now that it’s official, I just can’t wait to get to work.”
Farrell will be joined in Champaign by his friend and St. Rita teammate Johnny Schmitt. The senior defensive back picked Illinois as a preferred walk-on.
Retiring St. Rita coach Todd Kuska watched Farrell grow up. The two are neighbors who live on the same block.
“I’ve known Pat his whole life,” Kuska said. “Watching him come in and progress, work on getting bigger and stronger and seeing it all play out on the field this year, was great.
“What a great season he had. He did it all for us.”
Farrell had 64 tackles and 13 sacks and was named the Catholic League Green’s defensive player of the year.
For him, the chance to play in college for his home state school was something he couldn’t pass up.
“It means a lot,” Farrell said. “It’s great for the family. I can come home if I need to. Anyone around here can come watch me play whenever. It’s exciting knowing I get to represent the state.
“Playing for coach (Bret) Bielema is what I’m really looking forward to. He’s really turned the program around. They’re doing a great job keeping the in-state guys home.”
After committing to Illinois, Farrell let his coaches know about Schmitt.
“I kept telling them to check out his film,” Farrell said. “Any time he posted something new, I’d tell them to go watch it. They built a great relationship with Johnny, and knowing a guy from my school’s going to continue to play with me is great.”
Schmitt is also thrilled Farrell will continue to be his teammate.
“Pat’s been my guy for quite some time,” Schmitt said. “It’s really cool seeing how both of us have developed. I remember how little he used to be. We’ve grown up together.
“It’s awesome to get to keep playing with him.”
Schmitt, who had 67 tackles and three interceptions this past season, had scholarship offers from FCS schools but — like Farrell — was determined to go big.
“I’ve wanted to play at the highest level always,” Schmitt said. “My dream’s been to play in the Big Ten. Once I got this opportunity, I was like, ‘This is what I want.’
“Talking to the coaching staff, they said they could see me getting a scholarship there right away with hard work. I’m taking the opportunity and betting on myself. I know I’ve got the ability to play there and I’m ready to go.”
Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.