With few chances left, O'Donnell's grabbing

After entering Navy season with 4 catches, receiver leads team with 15 in '99

October 21, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The clock is ticking on Matt O'Donnell's football career, and he wants to savor the time he has remaining to play.

"I realize this is my last year, so what's the point of holding anything back?" said Navy's senior wide receiver, who paces the team with 15 receptions. "This is my last bullet; I might as well make it count. I just have to go out and seize the moment."

O'Donnell, who attended high school at Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore, has become an integral part of the Midshipmen's passing game that has become more important in the overall offensive scheme as the season has progressed.

He had four career receptions entering 1999, but caught that many in single games against Navy's two toughest opponents so far, Georgia Tech and Air Force. Although considered a possession receiver, he thinks big.

"I think we have the ability to keep defenses honest," he said. "You have to be confident you can complete passes on anybody at any time. You must have the mentality that every time you get the ball you're going to make something big happen."

An outfielder on a private-school title team, O'Donnell's first love was baseball. But a broken wrist slowed his high school career and besides, he always wanted to play Division I football.

"I miss baseball a lot," said the native of Glenelg. "But by my senior year in high school I was already committed to play football and I had to put baseball aside."

As a senior with no spring football ahead of him, he could play baseball for the academy this season, but he wonders if it is practical.

"Two things go through my mind," he said. "One, I question whether I still have it. And, two, is it fair to the other baseball players for me to come out for one season after they've worked so hard for many?"

In the meantime, he is enjoying the camaraderie surrounding a football team that has lost three games by five points or fewer and could easily be 5-1 instead of 2-4 entering Saturday's homecoming game against Akron.

"We have a real togetherness and chemistry," said O'Donnell, who is still seeking his first touchdown catch. "On the field, nobody is afraid to speak their mind. We're all going through the same things, and we have confidence in each other.

"I think we've proved to everybody we could play with these teams. We just have to put this jinx or whatever you call it behind us beginning with Akron."

Navy's week off was good and bad, O'Donnell said. Good, because it allowed players to regroup physically, emotionally and mentally. Bad, for a different reason.

"This was rough, especially on the seniors," he said. "They wanted to play right away again to get the bitter taste of Air Force [a 19-14 loss] out of our mouths."

At Mount St. Joseph, O'Donnell performed in a pro-style offense under coach Mike Working, ranking second on the team as a senior with 25 receptions. At Navy -- with its triple-option attack -- his responsibilities are quite varied.

"In this offense, wide receivers have to be good blockers," he explained. "The first two years that's pretty much all I did, block. It's a different satisfaction than catching a pass, to physically beat the man in front of you."

Homecoming will be special for O'Donnell, not only because the team wants to perform well for the graduates, but because he will be playing before a raft of relatives.

"My 6-year-old brother [Timothy] is really important because he really looks up to me," he said. "Already, he's Navy this and Navy that."

O'Donnell's future course was mapped out long ago. From a family with a long history of military service, he has always wanted to become a marine officer.

"I always felt everybody in this greatest country ought to give two years of service, either in the military, the government or the community," he said. "I could do that coming here and have the opportunity to play football. It couldn't have been better."

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