Need a player who will do the dirty work to keep your quarterback looking and playing clean like Heath Miller does for Roethlisberger? Nick O’Leary is your man.
A pervasive theme of this year’s Futures is the profiling of football players who transcend the typical boundaries of their position. Hines Ward comes to mind as the NFL prototype for my definition of a “football player.” Ward was a favorite of former Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher, who learned much of his craft in Cleveland under Marty Schottenheimer.
The former Browns’ head coach built a team of football players who, despite their unfortunate history against the Denver Broncos and John Elway, were one of the best teams of the 1980s. Herman Fontenot was a running back on those Cleveland teams, who, as a role player, embodied Schottenheimer’s definition of football player. Run, catch, block, return kicks, and occasionally throw, the former LSU back did a little bit of everything for the Browns. Schottenheimer once said,“Guys like Herman Fontenot . . . make it easy to coach a team.”
Cowher’s first coaching gig was Cleveland’s special teams unit in 1985 — the same year when Fontenot was a rookie. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Cowher thought of Fontenot when he took Ward 14 years later.
It would be a shocker if Cowher or Schottenheimer didn’t love the likes of Florida State’s Nick O’Leary. The Seminoles’ tight end’s range of versatility doesn’t bleed into the running back or wide receiver realm, and he’s not the kind of freakish athlete that gets fantasy football owners excited, but he has the potential to become a complete tight end. That statement alone epitomizes my working definition of “football player.”
The grandson of fabled golfer Jack Nicklaus, O’Leary’s style is more blue-collar like Nicklaus’ rival, Arnold Palmer. O’Leary’s athleticism fits more along the lines of tight ends and H-Backs like Heath Miller, Chris Cooley, and Owen Daniels — players who do a lot of the dirty work to sustain drives without a lot of glory.
O’Leary does a lot of Florida State’s dirty work to keep Jameis Winston looking good on the field. This year’s contest against Notre Dame has eight plays that showcase this point and highlight why he’s the type of football player that coaches will love.