By VINCE PELUSO - firstname.lastname@example.org
As a key piece to a Jefferson defense that helped lead the Falcons to a 15-5 mark over the past two season, senior Nathan O’Connor knows what it’s like to be part of a program on the upswing.
O’Connor will continue to play for a program headed in the right direction when he attends Heidelberg next season to play for the Student Princes.
Heidelberg is fresh off a 9-2 season, the first time it has had that many victories since 1972.
“I just really liked the program they had,” O’Connor said. “It’s a really nice program with a great coaching staff.”
The 6-foot-1 linebacker will likely start out on the JV squad for the Student Princes next season, but he isn’t worried about how long it takes him to get to varsity, he’s just focused on learning.
“For right now, they see me playing linebacker, start at JV then work my way up,” he said. “They run a 4-3, but they switch it up. Seeing how I’ll be a freshman and learning a whole new plan, I’m hoping to do special teams, get a chance to sub in and just do my job on scout team and make the varsity better.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal to not start as a freshman. I’ll just do my best to work my way up. Hopefully, one day I’ll be a starter.”
One thing that O’Connor believes will be a benefit to him as he adjusts to life at Heidelberg will be the team concepts he learned while playing at Jefferson.
“I learned a lot about teamwork, definitely,” he said. “That helped me but the coaching staff at Jefferson did a really good job teaching me how to work with other players.
“(Jefferson assistant) Coach (Rob) Mead did a great job working with me on my footwork and getting me ready for the next level.”
O’Connor got his first chance to start as a junior, giving him the opportunity to contribute to the Falcons’ recent string of success.
For the linebacker, the last two years were a great experience.
“These last two years were really fun,” he said. “My first year starting on varsity as a junior, that was amazing that I got to do that for the team and show the coaches what I could do.”
There were plenty of great memories for O’Connor during his time with the Falcons, but one sticks out in particular.
The senior intercepted a pass last in his final home game at Falcon Pride Stadium and returned it 13 yards in a 32-14 win over Conneaut.
“I think my favorite memory was Game 10 of this year and getting my first interception against Conneaut, that was definitely most memorable,” he said. “I hadn’t had an interception. My parents always wanted me to get an interception or a fumble return for a touchdown. It was the last game and I wasn’t really expecting it.
“But it was really memorable, especially being on senior night.”
The son of Jim and Susie O’Connor said his parents were very helpful with the recruiting process.
“They have been very helpful with just getting to the schools and talking with the coaches to making sure it was the right choice for me,” he said. “They’ve always supported me since I started playing football. They really supported me in all my sports throughout my life.”
O’Connor also credited Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson, assistant Dave Wright and the aforementioned Mead as being positive influences on him.
“Coach Henson was a great coach,” he said. “Especially, with him giving me a chance on defense and just letting me learn the scheme and help the team. Big Dog (Wright) and Mead always gave me great support.”
Between now and the start of next season, O’Connor, who plans to major in environmental science, said he’ll continue to work on strength to prepare him for the next level.
“The coaches are making sure I’m lifting and getting ready for their program,” he said. “They mainly want me to get stronger so that I’m ready to go against some of those 300-pound offensive lineman.”