Published September 02, 2010
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Contrary to many assumptions, the first name of the consensus No. 1 tight end recruit in the country is not Nicholas.
As in Jack Nicklaus, the name synonymous with golf excellence. Yet when it comes to football, his grandson is well on his way to making his own name. And that's why just about every major college program wants to see Nicklaus — call him Nick — O'Leary wearing their uniform next fall.
"Nick is very proud of his grandfather," said Jack Daniels, O'Leary's coach at defending Florida Class 4A state champion Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer High. "But when it comes to football, he doesn't want that to be associated with him. That's just his granddad who just happens to be the greatest golfer ever. Nick wants to be his own guy."
The kid's doing just fine in that department. Scouts simply drool over O'Leary's 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, and many coaches say that his hand-eye coordination is among the finest they've ever seen.
It helps his golf game, for certain. O'Leary was breaking 80 by the time he was a teenager. An even-par round is fairly common these days, and he once shot 77 at Bear's Club, the diabolical track that his grandfather designed in Palm Beach County and a course that several of the world's best players call home. Let's put it this way: They don't always shoot 77 there.
"I never knew I was going to be thought of as the No. 1 tight end in the country or anything like that," O'Leary said. "But now that I'm there, I just want to keep it like that. Keep doing my best. Keep getting better."
Miami and Florida State seem to be atop O'Leary's list, and Alabama, Georgia (where his father studied) and North Carolina also are strongly in the running. O'Leary said he doesn't plan to make his pick until the end of the high school season, with hopes that Dwyer can pull off another deep run in the state tournament.
At one time, Ohio State — his grandfather's school — was on O'Leary's list as well.
Imagine, just three years ago before he enrolled at Dwyer, O'Leary was considered a running back prospect. But when he arrived at Dwyer, coaches took one look at him and decided he was meant to play tight end.
Clearly, that was the right decision.
"He wasn't the top-rated guy last year," Daniels said. "We remind him of that every day. When he was playing 7-on-7 against teams from Miami and all these teams across the state, he gets their best shot. People know him. He gets double-teamed. He gets triple-teamed. Late hits. Cheap shots. He gets the best that everybody has, so he has to work harder than everybody else."
That's the lesson his grandfather taught him long ago.
When Jack Nicklaus shows up at Dwyer games — and he's a regular in the crowd — it's a normal thing. To O'Leary, it's just Grandpa in the stands, watching along with the rest of the family. Most of the time, other spectators tend to respect Nicklaus' privacy as well, knowing he's there simply to watch football.
Sure, Nicklaus' company has a banner hanging on a fence at the school, along with several other sponsors. But there's no special favors, no special treatment. When O'Leary does something wrong in practice, like not telling the punt coverage team — he doubles as Dwyer's punter — which way the ball is sailing, he gets barked at like any other player would in that situation.
"I just do what I do," O'Leary said. "Every day, I just try to improve myself. That's all I can do."