Senior kicker Jake O’Brien is near automtic for the Panthers.
Jake O’Brien is a rare find among high school football players in the state.
The Whitman-Hanson Regional High senior’s primary role is kicker, and just kicker.
Last season — his second as the starter — O’Brien knocked in 18 of 19 extra points and was three for three on field goals, which included a long of 39 yards. His near-perfect campaign had him drawing high praise from his head coach Mike Driscoll.
“In my opinion, he’s one of the top five kickers in the state,” Driscoll said.
It’s not O’Brien’s point-scoring ability that’s his biggest asset to the Panthers, but rather when he takes the pressure off his fellow special teamers.
“Some of the bigger ones to me were some of the times he could kick it out of the end zone on a kickoff and not worry about the return,”Driscoll explained.
Driscoll said a key to O’Brien’s success is that he understands his role on the team. Besides spilling the starter occasionally at safety, all O’Brien does is kick.
“He knows he’s not going to play offense for us, so during offense he’s out there [and] he’s kicking — either up on the grass field working on his kickoffs or he’s working on one end on his field goals,” Driscoll explained.
And, when he’s up on the grass field, Driscoll must make sure he keeps a close eye on him.
“We have to limit him on his kicks because he would kick 100 a day [and] you don’t need that,” Driscoll said jokingly.
Ironically, O’Brien’s knack for kicking doesn’t even stem from the gridiron, rather the pitch.
“I played soccer for a while when I was younger and then [in] eighth grade all my friends were playing football, so I decided ‘Why not switch over?’” O’Brien said. “Then, from eighth grade I just started kicking in youth because I played soccer and then it’s just been natural for me, I guess.”
As a ninth grader, O’Brien was the freshman team’s starting kicker, but his leg was essentially neutralized because the Panthers would shy away from the point after. However, he got his chance in the last game of the season.
“We played Abington before Thanksgiving and they let me kick a field goal and that was my first field goal in a game ever and I was pretty nervous, but I did hit it; I think it was from 15 yards,” O’Brien said with a laugh.
Over the following months, O’Brien set his sights on the starting varsity kicker position and nabbed it as as sophomore.
“I knew that our kicker was graduating next year, so in that offseason I did work a lot,” he explained. “I worked a lot all summer. I made sure that I definitely had a chance to get that spot and it paid off for me in the end.”
O’Brien connected on 23 extra points and a pair of field goals that sophomore season.
“To have a kicker is huge because most kids don’t work at that skill anymore and I think Jake is unique,” Driscoll said.
To prepare for his final go-around, O’Brien used the offseason to kick — of course.
“I went to one camp at the beginning of the summer with Kicking World and that was in Braintree and that was more of an instructional camp,” O’Brien explained. “They kind of taught me a little more of the basics, likewhat I didn’t know already. From there, I went to another camp called Clutch Kicks and that was more of, not really competitive, but it was kind of like you already know what you’re doing. They definitely helped me out a lot.”
Driscoll said he has no reason not to believe O’Brien’s going to have another strong campaign this fall.
“Jake is a big, big, big part of our team,” Driscoll said. “I’ve never had a kid who you feel confident trotting him out there from 40, 45. He’s working hard try to get less air time on it and put something into it. I think that he is going to be a huge factor for us to besuccessful this season.”