Like most parents, James O’Hagan drives his kids around. A lot. To school, to practices, to events, to games. Even up to Buffalo to bring his son to college.
“All my free time is dedicated to taking them wherever they need to go,” he said.
On Thursday morning, he was back in the car for a shuttle that made all the hauls worthwhile.
He drove his son to the NFL.
O’Hagan’s oldest son, James, the one who went to Buffalo, agreed to sign a free-agent contract with the Giants after he went undrafted in last weekend’s selection process. The product of Seaford High School, where he was a state wrestling champion, and Buffalo, where he was a four-year starter at center, reported for the Giants’ rookie minicamp on Thursday. And while players from all across the country flew into New Jersey to attend the function, O’Hagan, being just an hour or so away, simply drove to East Rutherford. And since his mom needs the car over weekend, his dad was able – and more than willing – to chauffeur.
“It’ll be pretty cool, just me and my dad,” O’Hagan told Newsday. “Me and him have really gone through this thing together more so than anyone else because he put me in training from a young age and he’s pushed me along the way. He believed in me even when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself. It’s gonna be good because it’s like that dream you set out to do when you were a little kid, it’s coming to fruition. That’s the thing that’s most special about it.”
The two did not expect a lot of conversation during their commute. Mostly the voice of the GPS would break the silences. But they each expected the other to be thinking about the same things. For O’Hagan the player, probably reflecting back to his earliest memories, when he was 3 or 4 years old, and he began to dream about playing professional football. For dad, probably thinking about all the times he made the trip from southern Nassau County to Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium to watch his favorite team, the Jets, play there. They were both also thinking about O’Hagan’s grandfather, also named James, who passed away about two years ago and was a driving force in O’Hagan’s football success. So much so that when it came to last Saturday, the final rounds of the draft and the calls regarding free agency, the O’Hagans wanted to be close to him so they spent the day at his home in East Rockaway.
“It’s going to be a fun ride and I’ll be thinking mostly about what my dad would be thinking,” the older O’Hagan said. “I get emotional thinking about if he was here how proud he would be. It’s amazing that he’s gotten to this point. I don’t think there is a word that can describe it other than being super proud.”
While the O’Hagan carpool was a matter of practicality, it also served as a calming influence for both.
“I know he’s nervous,” dad said. “I couldn’t even imagine getting to that point where you’re going to an NFL minicamp, surrounded by all these great athletes coming from a small little town in Seaford.”
Said the younger O’Hagan: “It’s going to be a little nerve-wracking because it’s a new environment, but the excitement is probably going to outweigh everything because I’m so excited to start everything already.”
O’Hagan knows there is still a long journey for an undrafted free agent to make the team, but he could be part of franchise history on Friday. Because he’s a center, O’Hagan will likely have the honor of snapping the first football to first-round draft pick and quarterback-of-the-future Daniel Jones in a Giants uniform when the team gets on the field.
“That’s what everybody tells me, ‘Dude, you’re gonna snap to Daniel Jones!’” O’Hagan said. “He’s just gonna be my teammate, it’s not gonna be anything special. But when you get to see guys like that, it’s awesome. Being around Eli Manning, the ultimate professional, it’s just going to be so fun. That’s in a couple weeks though.”
The rookies get a week off after this weekend’s minicamp and then they’ll join the veterans and the entire team the following week. That means O’Hagan will need a pick up from the Giants’ facility on Sunday, not just the drop off on Thursday.
One guess who’ll be in the idling car out front waiting for him.