KINGSTON, Ont. -- The next phase of Matt O'Donnell's eventful off-season sports odyssey is going to take him to the NFL.
The towering six-foot-10, 325-pound offensive lineman with the Queen's Gaels signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday. The NFL becomes the third different professional league O'Donnell has been associated with since the end of the Canadian university football season.
O'Donnell took part in the CFL's evaluation camp in March and was selected in the second round, 15th overall, by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian college draft in May. But he put his CFL aspirations on hold to instead take part in a tryout with the NBA's Boston Celtics despite having not played basketball since high school.
On Thursday, O'Donnell will trade his highcuts in for cleats and again don the pads when the Bengals open their training camp in Georgetown, Ky.
"It's been pretty hectic," O'Donnell said. "But there's also been quite a lot of time between events.
"I'm just tremendously happy to have this set in stone and know where I'm finally going now."
Financial details of O'Donnell's deal weren't available but it's hard to fault him for wanting to try out south of the border. The NFL's minimum salary for rookies this year will be US$375,000, roughly eight times more than he could expect to earn in the CFL.
Even if the Bengals kept O'Donnell on their practice roster, he'd earn more than $5,000 a week, again more than he'd likely make even as a member of Saskatchewan's active roster.
With the 4 1/2 month-long lockout ending Monday, NFL teams started getting back to the business of football. Players began reporting to their team headquarters Tuesday, while clubs were allowed to sign their own free agents, draft picks and undrafted players, plus make trades.
While the prospect of playing basketball intrigued O'Donnell, there's no question in his mind what his sport of choice has always been.
"I grew up playing community football, high school and university and it's in my family too," O'Donnell said. "I have two older brothers who played it with me.
"My goal has been to play football at the highest level. Growing up I always loved watching the game, be it in the CFL or NFL."
The 22-year-old native of Comox, B.C., enjoyed a solid collegiate career at Queen's, helping the school capture the 2009 Vanier Cup while being named a first-team All-Canadian in 2009 and 2010.
And on Jan. 20, he played for the West team that lost 25-8 in the annual East-West Shrine game in Orlando, Fla.
But O'Donnell and other rookie free agents certainly face a tough challenge in NFL camps. The lockout prevented teams from holding off-season workouts, rookie camps and meetings with coaches, meaning first-year players will be forced to learn on the fly during training camp.
"It's going to be a real compressed schedule," he said. "I'm really going to have to get in there and hustle as much as I can."
While O'Donnell's top priority now remains cracking the Bengals roster, he has no qualms about heading to Regina and joining the Roughriders should a career in the NFL not pan out.
"I'd love to play football for the Riders in the future if at all possible," O'Donnell said. "I love the CFL, I grew up watching it and watching the (B.C.) Lions pretty much every game and every week.
"I'd like to thank the Roughriders for drafting me and it was hard to turn them down because they were such a great team going to the championship game the last two years. It was kind of a game of jump rope just trying to decide my future held."