The Real Deal: Excelling In QB Role
By Mandy Housenick
GoLeopards.com Featured Columnist
Sean O’Malley’s life changed the minute he decided to attend Lafayette College, 2,725 miles from his Beverly Hills, Calif., home.
The 18-year-old’s life changed as soon as he beat out seven others for the starting quarterback spot for first-year coach John Garrett’s Leopards and proceeded to win two Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors thanks to his stellar play.
The greatest change in O’Malley’s life, however, came months before he came to College Hill and began playing football.
As a second-semester senior at Loyola High School, a private institution, O’Malley fulfilled his month-long service project at a Los Angeles public school a half hour from his home.
“It is the coolest thing I’ve done in terms of developing as a person,” he admitted. “It was really great seeing how different it was, even within LA itself; how different people are.”
O’Malley served as a teacher’s aide and worked with second graders in a completely different socio-economic climate than he was used to at Loyola High.
“The whole community there was real tight,” he added. “It was amazing how well they got along and how nice they were to each other and how polite they were.”
The experience moved O’Malley so much that he is taking a psychology class now at Lafayette and considering changing his major (Economics).
It was around this time that O’Malley was sold on Lafayette because of the climate Garrett quickly created.
“What really attracted me here was the coaches really care about the players,” O’Malley said. “There’s a good bond. That’s something special to have.”
O’Malley accepted Garrett’s opportunity to walk on to Lafayette’s football team. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder knew he would get a fair shot. The rest was up to him.
By the time Lafayette made the trip to Monmouth, N.J., for the season opener, O’Malley was making history. He became the first freshman in the Patriot League era (since 1986) to start the opener. Garrett was true to his word regarding the biggest message he’s had for the team since taking over: the best players, regardless of class, will play.
"Sean is a really special and unique competitor. He has fantastic intangibles to play the position."
- Lafayette Head Coach John Garrett.
O’Malley stayed true to who he is, a determined, hard-working, intelligent player capable of doing most anything he puts his mind to. Eight games into his freshman season, the reviews are glowing.
“Every time he went in there, he kept proving that he was the guy by the way he handled himself and the way he performed,” Garrett said. “The splash he’s making around the league is really fun to see. Coaches are really noticing. I’m really happy for him.
“Sean is a really special and unique competitor. He has fantastic intangibles to play the position.”
His teammates have noticed O’Malley’s talent and makeup, too. They are supportive of him as the offensive leader.
Gavin Barclay especially can relate. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound freshman is starting on the offensive line.
“The speed of the game going from high school to college is just an unbelievable jump,” Barclay said. “Added on to that, the position of quarterback, especially at the college level, is so much more than just passing the ball and handing off the ball.
“You have to understand what the offense and defense is doing. You have to understand what everyone around you is doing. You can tie that back into his service project. He has to understand what is going on around him and making it all work together. It all ties into the kind of person he is.
“He’s not outspoken. He doesn’t put pressure on you. He’s not real vocal, but when he needs to be vocal, he is. He is a fantastic leader when he needs to be.”
O’Malley didn’t take the lead on his college selection process and simply fall into the first school that would give him a chance to play football.
Loyola High’s all-time leader in career passing yards and touchdowns has East Coast ties. His parents were born and raised in northern New Jersey. He still has aunts and uncles who live there. He has spent time there each year.
O’Malley had a few other schools interested in him, including Fordham, today’s opponent. But he said things just felt right at Lafayette.
So far, so good. The quarterback has completed 189 of 306 passes for 1,628 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“He’s poised. He’s competitive. He’s an accurate passer,” Garrett said. “He doesn’t get rattled. He’s very smart. He can process information very quickly in a variety of ways. He can learn verbally. You tell him something and he just gets it. He works very hard.”
One of O’Malley’s strongest football attributes is that he enjoys watching film. Even when his body is sore, even when the school work is piling up, even when he has to listen to criticism (including his 10 interceptions), he relishes the challenge of studying and finding ways to get better.
Garrett said working with a freshman quarterback has helped the team because O’Malley doesn’t have a lot of learned skills as a college player. He doesn’t have formed habits that may be a challenge to be changed or broken.
“To be able to, as coaches, introduce him and teach him those things, for him it’s for the first time,” Garrett said. “There is an advantage. You’re asking him to do it this way, and he doesn’t have a background. He will be investing all these reps in doing it the way we suggest and the way we coach.
“The accumulation of reps is in the way we want him to do something. It’s giving all of them something and then they accept the perspective of how things are going to be and how we are going to teach them. We have some really good, hard-working veterans on this team who have had to learn how to do new things.”
Part of O’Malley’s month-long high school project was learning about a different way things were done from what he experienced as an elementary-school student and recognizing how different cultures were.
Like the high school project, O’Malley loves the learning and challenges of college football.
“He is the type of kid who, since I met him this summer, has always struck me as the person who was always very compassionate,” Barclay said. “He’s a very compassionate person, very humble. He almost looks forward to situations like (his high school project).
“The improvement, even within the first game, after watching the first game on film, you could tell from beginning to end, he already changed how he played. It was that type of development. To go from there through weeks 2, 3 and 4, you can tell he’s not the same player he was three weeks prior.
“I like playing next to him. I would block for him any day.”