O'Donnell entered Holy Cross in 1904 and played four years of football. He was a standout end and captained the team in his senior year. He was coached by the “Iron Major” Frank Cavanaugh, George King and Tim Larkin. He played with Tom Stankard and Msgr. George Connor, both Hall of Famers. Upon graduation, he coached at Everett High, where his teams won two national schoolboy championships. He had equal success at Somerville High, losing only one game in two years. He spent two years as the head coach at Perdue before taking the head coaching job with the Crusaders. In 11 years at Holy Cross, his teams posted a 69-27-6 record, and he did not post a losing season. After the 1929 season, O'Donnell stepped down as head coach and served as HC athletic director until leaving to coach St. Anselm in 1935.