CARY – Patrick O’Malley had never known any other football life outside of fullback and until this year, hadn’t considered any other existence.
But after Cary-Grove lost three starters on its defensive line after last season, the blue-collar senior, who has always been known for his toughness, was suddenly being asked to consider a change of scenery.
Not only to a different position but to a side of the ball he had never played during his high school career.
But over time and despite some early challenges in making the switch from fullback to nose guard, O’Malley has proven to be a perfect fit on a Trojans’ defense that had a big say in unbeaten C-G advancing to Saturday’s 6A state semifinals against No. 10-seeded Lake Forest.
And for O’Malley, who made the move just so he could remain on the field, the success – both individually and collectively – has made the move worthwhile.
“After the first week, it was pretty set I was playing defense and from there, you just have to embrace it, have fun and just do whatever you can,” O’Malley said Tuesday. “I just wanted to get out there and play.”
O’Malley made the switch despite finding his niche’ as a fullback back with the Junior Trojans, Cary’s youth football program. He started there on C-G’s varsity as a sophomore and junior, helping anchor the Trojans’ backfield along with running back Ryan Mahoney. But when Trojans’ coach Brad Seaburg saw Kyle Norberg began to emerge as a a game-changing, big-play performer at fullback, he knew he had to consider his options.
While Norberg initially struggled to fit in at fullback, Seaburg liked O’Malley’s edge on defense – much of which came from his background as a wrestler. His toughness and strong hands only added to his skill set, making him a perfect candidate to take over the position that he now calls home.
“From day one, he looked like he had been playing it for a long time,” Seaburg said.
The fact he had moved from fullback – another position that requires some grit – made the move to nose guard easier. Some of the techniques he used as a wrestler translated over to the defensive line, making the transition ever smoother.
From the start, O’Malley was used to going hard on every play and making contact and so now that he was using his aggressiveness to help stop the run rather than running the ball himself didn’t really matter. And while defense was more physical and geared more toward emotion as opposed to offense, which required more thinking, how O’Malley contributed to the Trojans didn’t matter.
“He’s been great for us on defense,” Mahoney said. “He makes plays all the time, he’s always doing his job and making sure sure everyone on the (defensive) line is doing their job – he’s become a great leader.
“He’s always been team-first guy and he’s been a great example of that.”
The Trojans’ defense notched its first shutout of the season in a 7-0 quarterfinal win over Crystal Lake Central on Saturday and is coming into its own with C-G now only one win away from a berth in the state finals next weekend in Champaign. O’Malley still appreciates the work of the offensive unit he spent two years as a part of and that Norberg – the area’s leading rusher – now helps anchor.
But yet, he’s glad to see his new line mates rise to the occasion – especially when it matters most.
“I don’t want to say the offense has been carrying us, but we’ve been able to depend on them,” O’Malley said. “But (against Central), they had to depend on us and that was really humbling that we made the difference in the game. But it was just a matter of time before that was going to happen.”