11 NCAA Div. III national team championships
O’Donnell was a standout defensive back for the Dutch who had a school-record eight interceptions as a junior in 1967, including four in one game. He still shares the school season interceptions mark with two other players. He had one interception in the first half of the following season, but suffered a traumatic career-ending injury during the 1968 Homecoming game against William Penn, when his spinal cord was severed, causing paralysis. The injury attracted nationwide attention and $40,000 was raised for the Brian O’Donnell Fund to assist with rehabilitation expenses.
O’Donnell received the team Mentink Award for leadership, sportsmanship and inspiration following the 1968 season. In 1969, the team established the Brian O’Donnell Award, presented annually to the team’s outstanding freshman. He received the college’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2000. Central also established the Brian O’Donnell Scholarship, which gives preference to students who have demonstrated the ability to overcome adversity through perseverance, courage and determination.
Through his determined effort O’Donnell was able to complete requirements for his degree from his wheelchair, graduating in 1970. He earned a master’s degree in counseling and personnel services from the University of Missouri in 1972 before becoming a guidance counselor and assistant football coach at Highland High School in Riverside, Iowa that same year. In 1976 he took over as head football coach, piloting Highland to a conference championship while earning coach of the year honors that season. He became head baseball coach as well before leaving Highland in 1982 to become guidance counselor and assistant football and assistant baseball coach at the high school he attended, Assumption High School in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
O’Donnell gave up baseball duties to become head football coach from 1996-2002, receiving another league coach of the year award in 1999, before returning to an assistant football coaching position in 2003. He retired from coaching in 2007 but remains a guidance counselor at the school.
In 1997 O’Donnell won the Personal Achievement Award from the Opportunity Development Center of Wisconsin Rapids. The award is presented to an individual with a disability who demonstrates outstanding achievement in employment and exemplifies sound character. In accepting the award O’Donnell said “you are only as disabled as you perceive yourself to be.”
O’Donnell and his wife, Bev, were married in 1970. They have a son and a daughter.