O'Donnell goes on receiving end Navy sophomore grabs attention with TD catch in 49-17 rout of Temple

November 14, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

The blurb in the 1997 Navy football media guide on sophomore wide receiver Matt O'Donnell quotes coach Charlie Weatherbie: "Matt is a very physical player and good blocker. He has very good hands and goes hard all the time. He will be a big contributor this year."

High praise, but for the first seven games this season, the native of Glenelg who was a two-sport star at Baltimore's Mount St. Joseph High, went almost unnoticed.

All that changed Saturday in the Midshipmen's 49-17 rout of Temple when O'Donnell's first varsity reception came on a 41-yard touchdown pitch from Chris McCoy.

"The newspaper story made out like I was nervous, but I really didn't have time to think about it," O'Donnell said. "Afterward, I was kind of surprised because I didn't think the pass was coming to me.

"I was just concentrating on running the right route. That pass usually ends up going to the slotback coming out of the backfield, but the cornerback came off to cover him, and Chris made a perfect throw and hit me in full stride."

His catch set off a chain reaction of phone calls from former teachers, coaches and teammates at Mount St. Joseph, where he had helped Mike Working's Gaels share Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titles his last two years while playing both wide receiver and strong safety.

"Some of the guys were kidding me, asking me if I was the same O'Donnell that played at St. Joe for four years," said O'Donnell, preparing for a home game against Colgate tomorrow.

When O'Donnell graduated prep school, he received several offers from Patriot League and Ivy League schools, with Lehigh, Lafayette and Cornell leading the hunt. But a visit from Navy assistant Gene McKeehan made it an easy choice.

"I was always interested in becoming a Marine Corps officer," he said. "One of my grandfathers served in World War II and the other was in Korea. I wanted to play football and I searched around for a school with an ROTC program. But Navy offered the best of everything. I could combine the military with a Division I program."

O'Donnell knows he may have had a chance to step right in and play as a starter at a smaller college. But he has no regrets.

"You can always do more, but I'm satisfied with what I've accomplished this season," he said. "I've been in for about 20 snaps every game, primarily as a blocker. In our option offense, that's the key. We don't throw the ball a great deal much, but when I'm a receiver, I have to run the perfect route every time -- seven out of 10 won't do."

O'Donnell, a solid 6 feet 1, 185 pounds, speaks with the certainty of a drill instructor, but admits to experiencing culture shock as a Plebe.

"It's definitely an eye-opener, especially coming from the civilian world," he said. "There were times I was angry and upset. But if you believe in yourself, it's not that hard to overcome. Besides, I've never quit at anything."

He did, however, forsake playing baseball at Navy after hitting .340 his senior year playing outfield for Mount St Joseph.

"I broke my wrist my junior year, and just didn't have the same bat speed," he said. "I'm not a gifted athlete, and because of the time demands of playing football and the energy I put into it, I decided I'd rather try being good in one sport than a mediocre player in two sports."

"Matt is a natural leader," Weatherbie said. "He doesn't know how to take a lazy step on the field. He'll get in a crowd and dive for the ball. You'll hear his name a lot more next year."

And his old high school buddies will stop asking, "Whatever happened to Matt O'Donnell?"

NOTES: Defensive tackle David Viger has been selected to play in the Hula Bowl in Hawaii. Last year, Navy was represented by linebacker Clint Bruce. Colgate (6-3) has prepped for Navy's fTC option offense, losing a surprisingly close 35-27 contest with Army three weeks ago. Said Red Raiders coach Dick Biddle: "Army and Navy are two distinct teams. Army runs the option, but they don't have a quarterback like Chris McCoy. On his own quarterback, sophomore Ryan Vena (1,493 yards, 11 TDs), Biddle said, "He's a great leader and competitor. He doesn't have a classic arm or great speed. He just gets the job done." Next week, Colgate will play Bucknell for the Patriot League title.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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