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If any one play embodied the talents of Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) tight end Nick O'Leary, it was one during the third quarter of the Panthers' Class 4A state championship against Niceville.
|Nick O'Leary is quickly making a name for himself on the gridiron.|
With the Panthers pinned inside their own 5 and facing a fourth-and-long, O'Leary fielded the snap and felt pressure coming from both sides before he could kick. So he faked the kick and faked a throw before tucking the ball and running through tackles to get the first down.
Unfortunately there was an illegal block on the play that nullified the run, but O'Leary still managed to steal the spotlight in a game featuring talents like early Florida enrollees Matt Elam and Gerald Christian.
"He's just a special athlete. He can do things that you don't see people his size do," said Dwyer quarterback Jacoby Brissett. "I don't believe anyone can keep up with him at this level."
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 225 pounds, O'Leary is a physical mismatch for any cornerback. In that December game for the state championship, O'Leary led all receivers with five catches for 106 yards. He also punted five times with an average of 39 yards.
"I had a pretty good game. I just do whatever is asked of me from the team," said O'Leary, who also plays defensive end. "It was a big honor for me to be part of a national championship team."
The rising senior is considered the top tight end prospect in the state, and quite possibly the nation. Having All-American-quality talent at that position is nothing new for the Panthers, as Christian was considered the top tight end in the Class of 2010.
O'Leary said he learned a lot from his teammate before he headed to Florida.
"Gerald put in the work to get better every day, and I had to keep up with him in order to stay on the field," O'Leary said. "He was a leader by example and a great teammate."
There's also the question of genetics.
O'Leary's father, Bill, played football at the University of Georgia, and his mother played volleyball for the Bulldogs. But his grandfather is the one whose name is the most recognizable to the average sports fan.
"Nick" is actually short for Nicklaus O'Leary; he is named after his grandfather -- one of the greatest golfers of all time.
His grandfather is present at many of Dwyer's practices and games during the season, and was in attendance for O'Leary's standout performance at the state championship game. He's always been a familiar face at O'Leary's games, whether they are in football, lacrosse, baseball or basketball.
As for his golf game, O'Leary admittedly plays often during the summer and shoots in the 70s and 80s.
"He's a great influence, whether we're talking about sports or just life," O'Leary said. "It's always great to take advice from him because he's accomplished the highest levels athletically, but Grandpa and I talk all the time, and sometimes we just talk about anything but sports."
If you ask Brissett, his teammate for the past four seasons, the intensity his grandfather showed on the golf course is similar to what O'Leary displays on the football field.
"He can get crazy once it's time to play," said Brissett, a major prospect in his own right, with offers from West Virginia, Minnesota and Boston College, among others. "He becomes a different person. First of all, he's one of the funniest guys ever. But I can't really describe what happens once it's time for a game. He just gives you that look and you know something is about to happen."
Usually it's a good thing for Dwyer, and colleges have noticed. Early in his junior year the offers started rolling in for O'Leary, and they haven't stopped. He has offers from his parents' alma mater, Georgia, and Ohio State, where his grandfather went.
He also has offers from every other powerhouse school in the nation -- Florida, USC, Oklahoma, Miami, Tennessee, UCF, South Florida and a dozen more.
O'Leary hasn't put together a definitive list of top schools yet, and says location will not be an issue for him when it comes to selecting schools. He is specific on at least one thing, however.
"I want to play offense in college, so the team I go to has to use the tight end a lot in the passing game," O'Leary said. "The school I select will be the place I feel most comfortable as a student and an athlete."
His insistence on playing offense is no surprise given his success catching the ball. Through his junior year, he has compiled more than 1,300 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns.
Right now he considers his strengths to be his ability to run strong routes, blocking and using his size to get to the football over defensive backs. He is continuing to work on his speed.
There's little doubt that at least one of his teammates expects O'Leary's talents to shine through again.
"It's rare you see somebody that big and strong and athletic running down the field," Brissett said. "Who's going to stop him?"
Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.