Ben O’Brien is a president who has the respect of his constituents.
Creekside High’s senior class president is one of the captains of the football team that defeated Winter Springs last week. The 48-21 win was the school’s first in 34 months, breaking a 22-game losing streak.
During the one-sided contest, O’Brien was playing the one position — offensive tackle — he thought was as much a thing of the past as the losing streak.
“Due to our depth issues — at that time we were missing two offensive linemen — he moved down to tackle to provide us some depth, because he is a very intelligent kid and he knows exactly how to execute his responsibilities at that position as well as tight end,” said Creekside football coach Sean McIntyre. “He played so well, it’s making it hard for us to move him back.”
Eventually, the Knights will move O’Brien back to tight end. His play on the edge and the emergence of sophomore Shane Calhoun means there is little rush to make the move. As an insurance policy, Creekside will have both players ready on the sidelines every game.
It’s not what the 6-foot-5, 213-pound O’Brien envisioned, but injuries to Saul Storey and Luke Sweigart meant the coaching staff broke its in-case-of-emergency option.
Given the choice between an emphatic victory and another Friday night on the wrong side of a blowout, O’Brien wants to win. Last week’s success was a feeling that will not soon get old.
“I just wanted to thank the coaches,” O’Brien said. “That’s what I was telling the guys on the sidelines, ‘We have to get together and do something for the coaches.’ Obviously, the players put in a lot of work, but the coaches did too. The scoreboard wouldn’t reflect what it did without these new coaches. They really helped us a lot.”
Creekside gained 380 yards and didn’t commit a turnover or allow a sack.
The coaches wound up getting the Knights’ linemen cheeseburgers after they paved the way for junior running back Bryson Rusomaroff, who ran for more than 100 yards in his first varsity start. Rusomaroff carried the football 19 times for 113 yards on a night Creekside’s retooled offensive line helped the running game average 6.41 yards per carry and accrue 244 yards.
Creekside (1-0) will put its newfound confidence on the line Friday night when it travels to Clay County to face fellow unbeaten Ridgeview (1-0).
Prior to last Friday, the Knights and Panthers had combined to lose 40 straight games.
“We’ve been working really hard,” O’Brien said. “Since it’s paid off now, we don’t want it to stop. We’re not a one-and-done team. We want to keep working. I think Ridgeview will be the same way. I don’t know about their program, but it feels good to win.”
Left tackle may not be the premium position at the varsity level that it is collegiately or professionally; but, Creekside does like to throw intermediate and long routes with right-handed quarterback Tai Lavatai.
“There hasn’t been a kid who has bought in more and done every little thing we’ve asked him to do than Ben O’Brien,” McIntyre said. “He hasn’t missed a lift. He hasn’t missed a day. He hasn’t been sick. He hasn’t made any excuses. He has found a way to get the job done every single day in every single task. Kids like that are the kind of kids you love to coach.”
O’Brien is not solely dedicated to his football teammates. He is a two-year member of Creekside’s lacrosse team, was the junior class president, sophomore class vice president, freshman class president and a member of three other organizations on campus, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. On top of all of that, he takes five Advanced Placement courses and entered this year with a 3.7 unweighted grade point average.
“I like being involved,” O’Brien said before the season. “I don’t want to go to school and go home every day. I like having teammates and people I can rely on. Whether that’s my friends in (Future Business Leaders of America) or my friends in FCA or my friends in Link Crew or football and lacrosse, I like having a lot of teammates and comrades I can rely on.”
O’Brien was the unfortunate embodiment of the social media barbs. On the first day of the 2016 season he was working with the receivers catching passes when a reporter put an unflattering video of him on Twitter. Players from schools across St. Johns County had their fun at O’Brien and the Knights’ expense.
Rather than pout about the situation, O’Brien continued to work, his teammates noticed, during what would prove to be another winless season where he was switched between offensive line, tight end and other positions.
J.T. Wood, Creekside’s senior wide receiver, said O’Brien’s leadership style is through his deeds and not his words.
“Ben is a very likeable guy,” Wood said. “It’s easy to look up to him and see him as a role model.”