INDIANAPOLIS — If you roll the calendar back to any month prior to October 2021, Aidan O’Connell’s presence at Lucas Oil Stadium for 2022 Big Ten Media Days would be characterized as highly unlikely. Unless he was, say, an intern for the Big Ten office.

Go back to 2017, for instance.

With only 1 season as a high school starter under his belt, O’Connell’s scholarship offers are paltry. Many guys have committed before they even begin their senior seasons. But Purdue is intrigued by his record-setting season at behemoth Stevenson High School in suburban Chicago, so he heads to the school as a walk-on.

A scholarship and a degree are O’Connell’s goals. Getting on the field would be nice, too, of course. Maybe one day.

“I didn’t get the [practice] reps, so I stayed after practice to get the throws in that I needed to. Watched the film and studied the playbook how I needed to,” O’Connell said. “I needed that time in the shadows to develop as a player. I wasn’t ready to play my first year. I probably wasn’t even ready to play my second year.”

Fast-forward to 2019, his 3rd year. O’Connell enters the season as Purdue’s 4th-string quarterback. He’s maybe ready to take the field in a blowout.

Circumstances don’t treat the Boilermakers so kindly.

Starter Elijah Sindelar breaks his collarbone against Minnesota. A couple weeks later, former 3rd-stringer Nick Sipe retires from football for medical reasons. Suddenly, O’Connell is backing up Jack Plummer.

Sure enough, the very week Sipe hangs up his cleats, Plummer plays poorly against Illinois. After seeing his starter go 8-of-20 for 71 yards with an interception and a fumble, Jeff Brohm turns to the walk-on.

It’s foreshadowing. O’Connell engineers a 99-yard scoring drive that keeps the Boilers from being shut out for the first time since 2013.

For O’Connell, it should be a triumphant moment. Instead, it feels weird.

“Even when I first played in 2019,” O’Connell reflects, “when you have teammates that you love and you want to see them succeed, them getting hurt as the reason you play is kind of a tough pill to swallow.”

He takes another pill the following week when Plummer is knocked out for the season with an ankle injury.

And yet again, it’s a sign of things to come. Entrusted with the final drive of the game, O’Connell goes 6-of-7 for 62 yards to lead Purdue to the go-ahead touchdown and a 31-27 win over Nebraska.

Speaking of foreshadowing, afterward Nebraska coach Scott Frost grouses, “Collectively we made too many mistakes. Sooner or later that has to stop.”

The revolving door

The following autumn, O’Connell earns his job the honest way — by beating out Plummer. But a foot injury 3 games into the COVID-shortened season spells the end of that stint.

Plummer gets a leg up on O’Connell in the competition thereafter, and goes into 2021 as the starter.

“It’s hard to sit and watch when you think you should be out there playing,” O’Connell said. “But early in my career I watched David Blough and Elijah Sindelar battle for the starting spot. They did a great job of being able to compete but also being supportive and great teammates.

“I didn’t know at that time that I was going to be in that scenario later. Seeing that play out allowed me to be a great teammate and encourage Jack when he was playing. And he always supported me. When you have guys like that around you, that makes it easier.”

After giving O’Connell some possessions against UConn and Notre Dame, Brohm hands him the reins again at halftime of the Illinois game on Sept. 29. It was ugly, but Purdue gutted out a 13-9 win.

O’Connell hasn’t looked back since. Despite parachuting into the starting lineup late, he finished 2nd in the B1G in touchdown passes and 3rd in passing yardage last season. O’Connell credits Brohm for that being the case.

“It comes from our play-calling. He does a great job of game-planning against different defenses we’re going to see and lining up different concepts that are going to work against those defenses,” O’Connell said. “For the most part, it’s getting the ball out of my hands and getting it to our playmakers and letting them do what they do. We try to do that as much as we can.

“I’m lucky to be in a great system for a quarterback. We throw the ball a lot, and it’s a lot of fun.”

There will be no revolving door this season. Plummer transferred to Cal, well aware that this is O’Connell’s team now.

O’Connell is happy Plummer with have an opportunity to start elsewhere, though part of him will miss having Plummer around.

“We still have lives off the field. We’re still humans,” O’Connell said. “You meet with the same quarterbacks, you lift with the same quarterbacks. So you can’t help but become friends with them.”

The magic of the mustache

O’Connell grew a mustache at the start of training camp in 2021, because that’s the type of thing you can do when you’re the backup quarterback.

“I wasn’t the starter last August,” O’Connell said. “So nobody really cared.”

But it appears there may be some superpowers stored in those lip hairs.

“It stayed through the season and we won some big games,” O’Connell said.

So the mustache is back for 2022, even surviving O’Connell’s wedding on July 30. A brief clean-shaven episode in January scared him straight.

“I actually shaved it after the season, but I didn’t feel right about myself,” O’Connell said. “So it’s going to stay. Hopefully it will be here for a long time.”

O’Connell and the Boilermakers were giantkillers last year, knocking off both then-No. 2 Iowa and then-No. 3 Michigan State.

Now, Purdue is hoping to become the giant. Season-ticket sales are at the highest level in decades as there’s anticipation in West Lafayette that the Boilers could compete for their first divisional title.

Those fans will know where things stand pretty early. Purdue opens the season with a Thursday night kickoff against Penn State on Sept. 1.

It will be the first of what O’Connell hopes are many big games this season — including a return trip to Lucas Oil. Purdue hasn’t won a Big Ten title since Drew Brees’ senior season in 2000.

“This field right here is where we want to be in December,” O’Connell said. “That’s our measure of success this year. We want to be competing for a Big Ten championship.

“It hasn’t happened in a long time at Purdue. We feel after a special season last year we can build on momentum and do it again. Maybe even better.”