While in high school O'Connell was a member of the coveted football group Pain Train, which was reserved for only the toughest members of the offensive line. However, O'Connell would transfer to three different schools including Southern Utah University and The University of Utah where he made the team as a walk-on, while looking to get more playing time.
O'Connell eventually lost interest and turned his attention to mixed martial arts. O'Connell graduated from The University of Utah, with a degree in psychology. Despite having limited training, O'Connell was successful early on in his career and held an overall record ofwhich earned him an invitation to compete on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira vs.
Team Mir. O'Connell, however, was eliminated in the opening round to make it to the final cast. O'Connell, who also ran a talk show for a radio station in San Francisco at the time, was on a five-fight winning streak and held an overall professional record ofbefore inviting UFC president Dana White to come onto his show.
O'Connell asked White for a contract and was signed a year later. At PFL 9 on October 13,he defeated Dan Spohn by majority decision in the quarterfinal round and then fought Smealinho Rama in the semifinal round the same night, winning by knockout.