Nick O’Brien’s legacy lives on at Wyoming Area. He was one of the reasons the Warriors won their first District 2 football title in almost a decade back in 2012.
Back then, he did most of his damage on the offensive side of the football. Now, the 2013 Wyoming Area graduate spends his time on defense as a senior on Bucknell University’s football team. The Patriot League team has started this season 1-3, but O’Brien expects the Bison to get back on track after this upcoming bye week.
“It’s not been going as well as we planned,” he said. “I’ve had some success on the field with myself, but that’s not what I’m looking for. We’re looking for a title and we’re looking down the road for the rest of the season.”
O’Brien appeared in the first three games for the Bison this season and sat out the most recent game with a high ankle sprain. Bucknell is on a bye this week and return to action Saturday, Oct. 8. He said he should be just fine to return to the gridiron.
“We have to stay focused,” he said. “I think we have taken some opponents lightly and we haven’t had the focus we need to be a championship team. It’s up to us as to how we want to attack practice.”
In the first game of the season, O’Brien recorded his fourth career interception when he picked off a Mike White pass at the goal line in the first quarter of a 26-10 win over Marist University. He finished the game with two tackles. He also returned two kickoffs for 57 yards and three punts for 30 yards.
O’Brien had seven tackles, including one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery at Duquesne University on Sept. 10,. Most recently, against Cornell University, he had eight tackles. The defensive back has cracked the 30-tackle plateau the past three seasons.
Playing in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), a step below the NCAA Football, O’Brien has been a main feature in Bucknell’s special teams game since his freshman season in 2013. That year he ranked 46th nationally in kick return average and third in the Patriot League.
O’Brien was a regular starter at cornerback in his sophomore season and ranked sixth on the team in tackles with 42. As a junior, O’Brien missed some time due to injury. His best game came when he posted 11 tackles against Lehigh University, including a fumble recovery.
Bucknell coach Joe Susan said O’Brien is a leader by example. A quiet guy, he said O’Brien is a good role model to the younger players on the team.
“When he’s out there at cornerback you can erase that side of the field,” Susan said.
Technically, Susan said O’Brien is at the top of his game, and he’s one of the best tacklers in the league for his size.
“The most important thing is that we care about him,” Susan said. “That’s helped Nick understand we do care beyond the football field, and what he will become as a person.”
Turned WA into title town
At Wyoming Area, O’Brien will go down as one of the best athletic football players that has come through the school’s 50 seasons. That athleticism helped the Warriors to the 2012 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 Class 2A championship.
As a senior, O’brien rushed for 1,437 yards and 21 touchdowns as Wyoming Area beat Lakeland, 20-7, in the district championship. His passer rating that season of 190.85 led all other quarterbacks in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
O’Brien was named an All-State 2A quarterback and Times Leader Player of the Year, along with the Sunday Dispatch Athlete of the Fall. He rushed for a school record 5,175 yards, the third-most in Wyoming Valley Conference history at the time.
He was a member of the football, track and field, wrestling and baseball teams. As a senior, O’Brien also won a District 2 gold medal for the javelin throw.
“Winning that (football) championship really brought us together,” O’Brien said. “We knew what our goals were and what we wanted to get done. It’s just like this year. I’m in the same situation and hopefully we can get our heads on straight.”
Since Wyoming Area won 10 games in O’Brien’s final season, the Warriors have failed to win more than three in any season — they have gone 3-7 the past three seasons. This year’s Warriors are 4-1, and O’Brien is keeping a close eye on his alma mater.
Earlier this season, current Wyoming Area football standouts PJ Angeli and Brian Miles said they remember watching O’Brien play when they were in junior high, and said they always wanted to produce like him on the football field. To O’Brien, that means a lot.
“It’s very humbling to know that kids grew up watching me and wanting to play like me,” O’Brien said. “It’s huge when you can impact someone like that. They want to push themselves like me and I think it’s a great thing.”
At Bucknell, O’Brien is studying economics and hopes to work in the financial sector. The university in Lewisburg is No. 2 in the nation in student-athlete graduation rate, according to the Bison website. That’s why O’Brien chose Bucknell.
“It’s an academic school, but we’re playing some very good competition out here,” he said. “To try and balance that with the academics and competition, it’s been pretty tough. Our coaches help us so well with time management and get things done on deadline.”
He is the son of Bernard O’Brien and Constance Kozo-O’Brien. He has a brother, Zack.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick