If Tom O'Connell has looked like a point guard with a stick in his hand during Chaminade lacrosse games, it's essentially because he is that.
"He's definitely a basketball-type of guy and we mess around with him about it because he plays lacrosse like you would basketball," said lacrosse teammate Sean Cerrone. "We actually call him a point guard. His dodging skills are really similar to his crossover in basketball and his passes are unreal."
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In an era when many parents, coaches and student-athletes are starting to believe specialization in one sport is the best ticket to an athletic scholarship, O'Connell, who verbally committed to play lacrosse at Maryland, stands out because he defies that notion.
He's the only varsity athlete playing football, basketball and lacrosse at Chaminade (typically a powerhouse in all three sports), said athletic director Don Scarola. "And what's really rare and special is that he's an impact player on all three," Scarola added.
Ask those close to O'Connell how he's able to play each sport at such a high level, and a short answer is provided, usually accompanied with a smile. "He's a tough kid," they all say.
How tough could a high school junior possibly be?
"When he was a sophomore on the football team, in a game early in the season, a big senior on the other team knocked him to the ground," recalled Jack Moran, Chaminade's boys lacrosse coach and the football team's defensive backs coach. "He was decked pretty good, but he jumped right up and stood nose to nose with the kid. He was up and it was just like, dude, this ain't happening again."
Moran, in paraphrasing Bill Parcells, added, "If they don't bite when they're puppies, they're never going to bite. That put the stamp on it for me and made me think, yeah, this kid's a player."
During the fall, he's a defensive back on the football team. In the winter, he's the Flyers' starting point guard. And now, this spring, he's emerged as a quality midfielder. The sports change year-round. The attitude doesn't.
When O'Connell was a sophomore playing (and starting) in the CHSAA championship basketball game against Holy Trinity, he was one of two players who dove for a loose ball on the ground at one point. After the referee whistled the play dead, neither O'Connell nor the other player relinquished the ball. Again, an older opposition looked to be taking him lightly. And again, O'Connell stood up after the play and went nose to nose with him.
"I always have to play 100 percent," said O'Connell, who is 6-1, 165 pounds. "I can never take plays off because that's never been my mindset."
Known for his flashy, no-look passes, O'Connell emerged as a scoring option this past season as well, averaging 17 points.
"This year he's my best player by far," basketball coach Robert Paul said. "He's, if not the best, one of the top three athletes in the whole school."
The reason why Maryland lacrosse coaches showed such great interest in O'Connell, who was the first of his class at Chaminade to commit, is because of his athleticism and ability to blend his range of motions from other sports with the lacrosse knowledge he's accrued.
"He has an ability to see the field and throw some passes that most kids are not physically capable of doing," Moran said.
That's why when senior teammate Carney Mahon suffered an injury, O'Connell became the logical replacement. Chaminade's midfield line of Cerrone, Mahon and Sam Bonafede is among the best on Long Island.
"He definitely had a big role to fill and he stepped up to the challenge," said Cerrone, the team's leading scorer.
And he brought the no-look passes to the lacrosse field.
"Sean is a very good player so he knows when I'm passing it to him even if I'm not looking," O'Connell said. "It's a blessing to even play with those kind of players, really."
Cerrone and others have similar kind words to share about O'Connell. Teammates are enamored with his work ethic and ability to get into a lacrosse rhythm after dribbling a basketball for three months on a competitive level.
O'Connell said he frequented a park that has a lacrosse net near his home in Mineola to hone his stick skills during the basketball season. He did that while juggling schoolwork. And, for now, O'Connell, who owns a 90 average, wouldn't want it any other way.
The focus on solely lacrosse can wait about one year.
"I have been playing these sports all my life and one day it ends," O'Connell said. "I really wish I could play all three in college, but that would never happen. Next year will be my last year playing football and basketball. I just want to do everything I can before it ends."