EAGAN, Minn. – Brian O'Neill never second-guessed where he wanted to be.
Drafted 62nd overall in 2018, O'Neill has decided he wants to spend his whole career in Purple. And after signing a multiyear contract extension Wednesday, he's well on his way to that goal.
O'Neill put the paperwork behind him before the Vikings kick off their season at Cincinnati on Sunday – and before his 26th birthday, which he'll celebrate on Sept. 15.
"I wouldn't say I'm excited that it's over. I would say I'm just happy to be here and be a part of this [team]," O'Neill told Twin Cities media members just minutes after signing the dotted line. "I just love being here. I love being in the locker room with these guys and coming out to practice every day and just being a part of the organization. Getting to play for this team is a privilege, and I'm just happy to be able to keep doing it."
View the best photos of Vikings T Brian O'Neill from the 2020 season.
O'Neill said he was comfortable leaving the logistics to his agent while maintaining an on-field focus.
"I was kind out of the loop, to be honest, throughout the whole process," O'Neill said. "I was just worried about playing good football. But I just knew I wanted to be here for a long time. I think [the Vikings] knew that; we knew that. I'm just excited to get it rolling."
Sunday's noon (CT) game against the Bengals will mark O'Neill's 47th regular-season contest with the Vikings and 43rd start.
He was thrown into the fire as the team's starting right tackle partway through his rookie season, and O'Neill never flinched. Instead, he's continued to improve his game each season.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook joked that O'Neill "probably didn't know what he was getting himself into" but that he worked on the fly and didn't miss a beat.
"Being poised at his assignment, knowing what he had to get done, his preparation was good. I've seen the young guy just grow up in my face," Cook said.
"We've got some guys on the line that are going to step up this year and make some plays for us, and B.O.'s going to help those guys come along," Cook added. "He's been doing it all OTAs and camp, getting those guys' mindset ready and just letting them know what we expect of them as a Vikings organization."
O'Neill has learned from the likes of offensive line coaches Tony Sparano, who tragically passed away just a few months after Minnesota drafted O'Neill; Andrew Janocko and Clancy Barone; Rick Dennison; and most recently Phil Rauscher and assistant offensive line coach Ben Steele.
He also credited current and former teammates for helping shape him into the lineman he is today.
O'Neill specifically highlighted one player from each side of the trenches: defensive end Danielle Hunter and former Vikings tackle Riley Reiff, who signed with the Bengals this spring.
"[Danielle] pushes me every day to get a lot better. The intensity he brings and the energy he brings to practice is contagious, and it makes me a lot better, being able to go against him every day," O'Neill said. "And then for the past couple years, I've been able to lean on Riley a lot – just because everything he brought to the o-line room and then to me as a person. So I'm excited to see him this weekend."
Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson has seen the battles that O'Neill and Hunter have engaged in, as well as the strides O'Neill has taken over the past three seasons.
"He came in as a young, raw, athletic offensive tackle that now is a very confident, stronger, physical, still athletic, long offensive tackle. He's a really, really good football player," Patterson said. "I think it's helped him throughout his career, who he's had to go against every day in practice. Having to go against Danielle and having to against Everson [Griffen], I think those guys helped him out a lot.
"He's a good player, and I think it's all still in front of him," Patterson added. "He's still going to continue to get better and better."
But O'Neill isn't letting himself look too far ahead – or too far back – at the moment, focusing instead on staying present and prepping for Minnesota's Week 1 matchup.
Asked whether or not he's done any reflecting over his career journey thus far, O'Neill said "not yet."
"There hasn't really been time for that. We've got about three, four days until we play a game,' he said with a smile. "We get to go out and play a game – that's probably the coolest part of this whole week, is that football's back, and I just love the group we have, and I'm excited to go down to Cincinnati and rip it with the boys."
Heading into Sunday's matchup, O'Neill will help anchor a line made up of left tackle Rashod Hill, left guard Ezra Cleveland, center Garrett Bradbury and right guard Olisaemeka Udoh. The unit is no stranger to outside criticism over the past few years, but O'Neill and his comrades have plenty of confidence entering the 2021 campaign.
"We have a chance to be really good. And I think everybody believes it on our offensive line – and we should. All the other guys on the line, myself included, we should feel good about it because we've been working hard," O'Neill said. "Cincinnati, they have some really good players up front. They've got two really good outside edge rushers, and they're huge up front. It'll be a good test to start us off – I've got a lot of respect for them – but I'm excited."
O'Neill certainly would like to come away with a win in his 47th game – with many, many more to come.
"This offseason I said, 'I want to be here, no matter what.' I've known that for a long time," he said. "The people we have in this building, everybody around here, I just want to be a part of it. And I'm happy to be a part of it.
"There was never really a doubt as to whether or not something was going to work or not, in my mind," O'Neill added. "Because this is where I want to be. I want to be a Viking for my whole career."