Brennan O’Callaghan was a pretty good lacrosse player coming out of Lakota West High School in 2014, but even he’s a bit surprised by his collegiate success.
The leading scorer in Ohio Athletic Conference history? That would be O’Callaghan, a junior attacker at Capital University.
“There’s no way I could’ve imagined that,” he said. “I had quite a bit of success in high school, but as far as lacrosse and recruiting, I was still a very late bloomer. My first goal when I got here was I wanted to be a starter my freshman year. I thought I could work harder than a lot of guys and earn my spot.”
O’Callaghan did just that and has been a starter from Day 1 for the NCAA Division III program in suburban Columbus.
This is the fourth year of OAC men’s lacrosse. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound O’Callaghan has 151 goals and 45 assists in 43 games as a Crusader.
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“He’s a lacrosse junkie,” first-year Capital coach Dom Marzano said. “He loves all of it. He’s always routine. He’s always prepared. He’s mature, a good student. The guys look up to him and respect him.”
Lacrosse has been a part of O’Callaghan’s life for a long time, but it took a while to become an addiction.
He started back in the second grade when some neighbors talked up the sport. O’Callaghan played until the fourth grade, then another sport grabbed his attention.
“There were people that said I kind of went to the dark side when I played baseball for three years,” he said. “That didn’t work out. My parents (Steve and Julie) don’t really force me into anything. They were like, ‘Look, you were good at lacrosse. You need to give it another try.’ So I gave it another try in eighth grade, and I’ve been playing ever since.
“I started at a very young age … the stick is about the same size as you. When I came back in eighth grade, it was almost like second nature because I had learned it so young.”
Lacrosse wasn’t sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association when O’Callaghan played at West.
But the sport has grown and continues to expand in this part of the country, and the OHSAA started recognizing lacrosse for the first time this spring. The state tournament will be held at Ohio Wesleyan University’s Selby Stadium.
Marzano loves the movement in Ohio. He believes the sport’s popularity has increased in large part because of more television coverage and a major presence on social media.
“I used to have to wait until Memorial Day weekend to watch it on ESPN2,” Marzano said. “Now they livestream games on Facebook, on Twitter. That’s part of the growth with the OHSAA. That made them kind of go, ‘OK, it’s no longer the enemy sport.’ It’s a good option for somebody that doesn’t want to run track or play baseball. It’s a great option for an athlete.”
Capital has six Southwest Ohio players on its roster, including O’Callaghan and senior Luke Scott from Lakota West, senior Ryan Chamberlain from Lebanon and freshman Ed Carroll from Fairfield.
“I put Dayton and Cincinnati together in the Ohio lacrosse world,” said Marzano, a 2002 Hilliard Davidson graduate. “I think it’s a hot spot. It’s a market that we want to get into and really start plucking the best from.”
O’Callaghan didn’t necessarily see himself playing college lacrosse, but the thought of being done with the sport really struck him as a senior at West. He committed to Capital late in his senior year.
With the Crusaders, O’Callaghan has been an offensive force. He produces a high volume of shots on goal.
“What we’ve worked on this year is adapting and really taking the right shots,” Marzano said. “He’s a critic on his own game, and I think that’s why he is a prolific scorer.
“He finds different ways to score. If he has three goals in a game, I’m pretty confident they’re scored three different ways. The one great part of his game is off ball. He makes these cuts and just sees it before anybody else.
“His goals have always been way above his assists. He’ll always be that player because he gets in the right place, but we’re trying to even that out more. I think he can create and distribute. I think he can quarterback an offense.”
O’Callaghan likes to focus on the word “creative” when describing his attraction to lacrosse.
“I love that you can be really creative on offense,” he said. “I feel like in certain sports you can’t get creative. With lacrosse, you can literally go out and be practicing in your backyard and be thinking, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to do this move or try to come up with this,’ and mold it to your game.
“Speed helps a lot, and I harp on change of direction, being able to go one way and then stop on a dime and go the other way. I try to get separation as much as I can.”
O’Callaghan isn’t officially a captain for Capital, yet he is clearly a team leader.
“I’m one of those guys that’s not incredibly talkative,” he said. “I’m definitely a very hard-headed player when it comes to certain things, but I like to put my head down and work. If I lead by example, others will kind of see that and hopefully follow.”
“He’s a yes-sir guy,” Marzano said. “It’s yes sir, yep, yes I can do that. It’s never no, and that’s always good as a coach. I was a coach in the conference at another school (Wilmington), so I had the struggle of scouting against him and trying to get game plans against him. It was always tough because he can do so many good things on the field.”
O’Callaghan, 21, is committed on and off the field.
He likes to watch lacrosse and studies a lot of video. He coaches a Velocity Lacrosse junior high team in the summer. In the classroom, he’s a solid student majoring in business management with a minor in coaching.
The coaching piece is important to him. O’Callaghan’s playing days may or may not stretch beyond college. But coaching is definitely part of his plan.
“If I could play on the side, that would be cool,” he said. “But I think if I could become a coach, I truly wouldn’t have to work a day in my life. That’s how much I love the sport.”
“That young man has a bright future in whatever he does, and hopefully the lacrosse world is lucky enough to have him in it,” Marzano said. “I think he’s going to be a future coach and a damn good one. You can just tell guys that are going to be good at it. There’s a lot of players that will benefit from working with him when he graduates from college.”
Team-wise, Capital is 5-5 overall and 2-2 in the OAC. The Crusaders have three one-goal losses and are striving to be one of four teams to make the conference tournament.
Capital is back in action Friday afternoon at Mount Union.
“I look back and think about what it would have been like if I didn’t make this decision to come here,” O’Callaghan said. “I’m having the time of my life. It’s definitely the best decision I could’ve made.”