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In the dog days of summer, as football teams gear up for the season, Meade County coach Larry Mofield watches his Green Wave during drills and waits for a player or a group of players to emerge as leaders.
After the first few days of practice, Mofield began noticing who some of those players were. Every day, they would be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Among that group was senior Nick O’Brien.
“Back in July and August, you start looking at who’s going to lead your football team, who’s going to be the first on the practice field, who’s going to be the first one when you’re running sprints,” Mofield said. “You have a feeling that if a guy can do those things, he’s going to be able to set a good example. His example that he sets for the younger kids is good.”
That workman-like mentality carries over into everything O’Brien does, be it the 45-minute weight-lifting class he takes every day or helping the Green Wave to one of the best seasons in school history.
Meade County plays for its second Class 6-A region title in six years when it hosts the Central Hardin Bruins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hamilton Field.
O’Brien is a big reason – though definitely not the only one – the Green Wave are in this position. He has scored a team-best 13 touchdowns, including eight rushing.
O’Brien leads the team in receiving yards (170) and receiving touchdowns (three), is tied for first in receptions (eight), is second in rushing yards (624) and is fourth in carries (51).
“It’s been a pretty productive and good season,” O’Brien said. “The team has gotten better every day. For me personally, it’s been pretty well-off from what I expected.”
Not to Mofield, who said O’Brien is one of the hardest-working players he’s coached.
From the time he puts in during the weight-lifting class to working to improve on the football field, O’Brien has made an impact on his coach and the Green Wave.
“We expect our football players, if they’re in a weight-lifting class, to get in there and go to work every day. It’s not a time for them to come in there and fool around,” Mofield said. “That goes back to setting an example for the younger kids in that class. What’s a senior going to do? Is he going to come in there and horse around for 45 minutes, or is he going to work?
“Nick’s a hard worker. He works hard in the weight room and he’s very coachable,” he added. “He’s one of those kinds of guys who enjoy playing the game. Not everybody looks forward to practicing every day, but Nick has a good attitude about it. You can really start the foundation of a football player with their attitude.”
Just don’t expect to hear O’Brien bragging about himself or his accomplishments, because that’s among the last things you’ll hear from him.
While the individual accolades are nice, O’Brien’s focus is more on the team and leading the Green Wave to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007 – when they lost to eventual state runner-up Louisville St. Xavier, 31-3.
“It’s team-first as far as what we’re going to do,” O’Brien said. “I do pride myself on being the best that I can be, but right now my focus is on the team. Winning the regional championship for the first time since 2007 would be the greatest feeling.”
Whether it’s O’Brien or one of the other running backs carrying the load doesn’t matter. Getting the win does.
“He’s an important part of what we try to do,” Mofield said. “It helps to have some ability and he’s got some athleticism that none of his coaches had anything to do with. He’s got God-given ability.”
Ability he’s been showcasing in Meade County’s Wing-T attack, which spreads the carries around to several running backs.
If he’s not getting the ball, O’Brien still will find a way to make an impact on a play. He likes getting his number called, but loves being the one who sets up a big block to spring a long run.
“The roles are pretty spread out,” O’Brien said. “They use me in many different situations. I block on some plays and, since I used to be a wide receiver, we try to use my athletic ability when I’m running it.
“Blocking is the key for the Wing-T,” he added. “It’s working around the fullback and the blocking has to be precise. Everybody has to do their job. If that happens, then the team gets the job done.”
That mentality has made a lasting impression on Mofield.
He wishes more players were like O’Brien, who doesn’t seek the spotlight.
“You can talk about the plays that happen on the field, but it’s the intangibles you don’t really see that lead to what happens on the field,” Mofield said. “He’s meant a lot to the team. When I see a kid that’s committed to what we’re trying to do, those are the kind of things I appreciate about kids like Nick.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at 270-505-1752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.