Cade O’Bryan knew he couldn’t keep up the scorching pace.
If he had, he’d be sitting on 80
defensive touchdowns right now.
Heck, the first one nearly blew his mind — it was a first-quarter 34-yard scoop-and-score off a fumble recovery during a Week 1 defeat of Lawrence County.
“After the first one I was thinking, well, this is never going to happen again,” said O’Bryan on Tuesday.
It did. A minute and 14 seconds later, in fact. This one was twice the distance, though, at 69 yards.
“I was running, and in the back of my mind I was thinking, somebody’s got to be close to me,” O’Bryan said with a smile. “I see what the running backs go through, because I was tired after that one.”
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound O’Bryan used to be a running back and linebacker. That’s when he didn’t like football all that much, in Junior Football League and middle school days.
Baseball had a firm grip on his heart all the way through childhood.
But, upon entering high school, O’Bryan hit an astonishing seven-inch growth spurt. He was bigger, faster, and he could hit much harder. Football became his favorite.
As for his heart, it always seemed big for his body. So, in a sense, he was just growing into it.
Good friend and senior teammate Cody Watts said it was impossible to take notice of O’Bryan’s passion from the first day he stepped onto the same playing field as O’Bryan, back in second grade.
“He’s always had a big heart, and he’s got a nonstop motor,” Watts said. “He plays almost like somebody undersized while he’s actually bigger than guys he plays.
“He’s the heart of our defense,” added Watts.
According to Watts (5-8, 180), he and O’Bryan were about the same size until sophomore year.
“When we came back to school after sophomore summer, I was like ‘What have they been feeding you?’” Watts recalled.
Heeding suggestions from his father, Mark, and coaches, O’Bryan undertook the defensive end position before his junior season. He also plays offensive tackle.
“He was nervous making the switch,” said Tomcats coach Leon Hart. “But he was gangbusters from the start.”
A breakout junior season ended with an All-State honorable mention. He’s been no disappointment as a senior.
“He got everybody’s attention a year ago, and he picked up right where he left off and really hasn’t slowed down,” Hart said.
The proof lies within O’Bryan’s gaudy numbers: 39 solo tackles, 11 assists, 13 tackles for loss, eight sacks, four caused fumbles, four fumble recoveries, three touchdowns, one blocked kick and five forced bad passes.
Both Hart and Watts used the words “sense of urgency” and “enthusiasm” when describing O’Bryan’s approach to each play.
“It’s infectious,” Hart said of his attitude.
“He’s noisy ...” the coach paused. “... a good noisy.”
Fortunately for O’Bryan, he hasn’t had to sit too many plays out. He hasn’t missed a game in the past two seasons.
“The Lord’s blessed me with health,” O’Bryan said. “Whatever’s gone on I’ve been able to handle it and do my best at it. There’s just been a lot of help from everyone and I can’t thank them enough.”
O’Bryan speaks highly and appreciatively of his parents, coaches and friends.
They’re the reasons why, he said, the senior has a chance at a college football career. Eastern Kentucky is one of several schools showing interest.
O’Bryan still plays baseball, too. He’s quite good, actually. The outfielder and left-handed hitter provided solid fielding and a big stick during last season’s 16th Region championship run.
“He’s athletic enough to play outfield on a regional championship baseball team, and he can take on tackles, tight ends and quarterbacks,” Hart said.
O’Bryan hasn’t always been fast. Even as a little guy he was slow, he admitted.
“I used to be really slow,” he emphasized. “But since I got bigger, I’ve gained speed every year. Coach (Scotty) Gregg and coach (Chad) Tackett are all about speed. Their workouts help us with speed a lot.”
The way he uses both power and speed to break through the offensive line is mostly instinctive, said Tomcats defensive coordinator Tony Love.
“You can teach a certain degree of it, but I think most of it is a natural thing that takes over,” Love said. “I told coach Hart a couple weeks ago that he’s starting to see things most high school kids don’t see. As a blocking scheme unfolds, he knows where the ball is.”
Wanting to leave a mark, that’s what drives O’Bryan to give it his all every single down.
An O’Bryan sack sealed a great team defensive performance and one of Ashland’s best wins in recent history, a 22-6 defeat of Johnson Central for the 2011 district title.
O’Bryan also played a key role in the ’Cats beating Ironton last season, and taking down George Washington this season.
Of course, those two TDs coupled with a defensive TD against Boyd County are also career highlights.
For his effort, he was selected to participate in the Best of the Bluegrass All-Star game in December.
“It’s awesome to see the player he’s become,” Watts said.
But, what’s meant most to O’Bryan are the words etched onto the sign above Ashland’s weight room, a quote from former coach Bill Tom Ross.
“You can play football at any school in the country for four years or you can go to Ashland and be a Tomcat for the rest of your life.”
O’Bryan wants to be a Tomcat on the field for just a few more weeks, but he knows the task is tall. Covington Holmes comes into Putnam Stadium on Friday in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. If Ashland wins that one, a meeting with defending champion Highlands likely looms.
“Everybody’s going to doubt us,” O’Bryan said. “But it doesn’t matter what everybody else believes. It’s just about what our team believes.”
After all, nobody believed O’Bryan would score two touchdowns in a quarter either.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.