John O’Brien has always played much bigger than he is.
O’Brien is a senior on the Archbishop Ryan High School football team, and during his sophomore year, the now 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was a tad undersized for a tight end on the junior varsity squad, but because he had good technique and played fast, he wasn’t at a disadvantage.
Now, he’s no longer an undersized tight end. He’s a really undersized offensive tackle.
“It’s not too bad because I’m always faster than the defensive end I’m going up against, so I have an advantage there,” said O’Brien, who lives in Feasterville and grew up playing football in Somerton. “I think I use my hands pretty well and I try and play with perfect technique. That way, when bigger guys try to bullrush me, I’m able to stop them. Being fast helps a lot, too. You hit them before they hit you.”
Ryan has been hitting big play after big play this year and because of that, the Raiders are 5–0 for the first time since 1988, according to research on tedsilary.com after downing host Springside Chestnut Hill Academy 45–20 on Saturday afternoon.
O’Brien notched two sacks and helped block for an offense that was led by sophomore wideout-turned-running back Tyreek Chappell, who rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
The win gives the Raiders momentum going into their biggest game thus far, a showdown Saturday night against Father Judge in both teams’ Catholic League Red Division openers. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Northeast.
The Raiders have been rolling along all season, scoring at least 38 points in every game, and have outscored their five foes 210–90.
The Crusaders come into the game 1–3, but have shown a lot of good things on offense, too.
On Saturday, Ryan played well on both sides of the ball and beat a team in SCH that also came into the game unbeaten.
“This was a good win because they can score,” said O’Brien, also a defensive end who helped the Raiders force five turnovers against SCH. “We knew they could score, so we wanted to make sure we could stop them.
“Offensively, we have a lot of skilled guys who can move the ball. We knew as a line, we just have to help them. We have a lot of different ways we can score.”
The Raiders have been moving the ball in various ways, and this year they’re finding ways to get points on most of those long drives.
It helps to have Jahlil Sanders, who has really blossomed as a dual threat quarterback, but O’Brien is proud of the way the grunts have been paving the way.
“We worked really hard because I think we all knew this could be a really good year,” O’Brien said. “We spent a lot of time in the weight room. We worked really hard, and I think it shows. Not every team does that, and when you do that, you can really see a difference. It’s definitely helped me.”
Ryan has played a diverse nonleague schedule against teams from the Inter-Ac, Public League and suburbs, but this week Frank McArdle’s team starts play in arguably the toughest division in Pennsylvania.
But despite the tougher competition, O’Brien believes his team has a chance to be just as successful.
“Our division is really tough, it is every year,” O’Brien said. “But this year is different for us. We’re pretty happy to be where we are going into next week because you want to go in with momentum.”
O’Brien will continue to do what he does best when Ryan squares off against teams like Judge, St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle and Archbishop Wood.
“I know i’ll play against bigger guys so I just have to play perfect,” O’Brien said. “On offense, I’m usually faster and on defense, too, I usually have an advantage for speed.
“My whole life, I’ve been smaller so I’ve always had to work harder than everyone. I’ll just keep doing that and hope that works.”
Though he’s unsure about his future, O’Brien is considering joining the military next year. He’s eyeing the Navy as a possible destination.
“I’ve thought about that for a while,” O’Brien said. “I think if I do that, I’ll study engineering. That’s something I’ve always been interested. I do OK in school and I think I’d like that.”
But first, he has business to take care of on the football field. Then possibly the basketball court.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to play basketball, I have played, but I stopped,” O’Brien said. “If I do, I’ll do the same thing. I’m not the most skilled guy out there, but I’ll try and outwork everyone to help the team.
“I think we can beat anyone this year. We’re playing the best we ever have, but we can still get better. This team has been working, and we’re going to keep doing it. We think we can be as good as anyone.”