It is not uncommon for a team to follow the example set by its best player.
That’s why it was so important for Mundelein senior strong safety/wide receiver Dillon O’Donoghue to set the tone for the Mustangs this offseason.
“The way he bought in was important to our development as a program,” second-year coach George Kaider said. “He’s kind of a quiet guy, but his leadership ability is more about being able to command the respect of the team. When he does speak, the kids listen to him.”
O’Donoghue said offseason commitment was needed to set the tone for the season.
“The other schools were doing it, so it was essential for us as well,” he said.
O’Donoghue added about 15 pounds of muscle to his now 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame. This has allowed him to play the game, particularly at strong safety, in a new way.
“When I wasn’t built, it would (sometimes) hurt to hit someone,” he said. “Now that I have (more) muscle, it makes it so much easier to go up against someone bigger than me.”
And from a team standpoint, all that work is starting to pay dividends on the football field. Mundelein broke an 18-game losing streak Aug. 31 with a victory over Wheeling in its season opener. Friday at Highland Park, the Mustangs (1-1) were within a point at halftime before the Giants pulled away for a 31-12 victory.
“We were overjoyed with the victory against Wheeling,” O’Donoghue said. “We did well in the beginning against Highland Park but we lost some of our intensity in the second half. We’re (disappointed) but still (encouraged) that people know that we’re changing the program around and they realize what we’re trying to do.”
Kaider said O’Donoghue is the type of player you can build a defense around.
“A lot of times in football it’s a matter of having kids that are tough enough to want to play and be big hitters,” he said. “Dillon wants to hit hard, get downhill and make plays. He likes to come up and make plays on the running game but he’s disciplined enough to also defend the pass. You don’t have to worry too much about him making mistakes; he has a nose for the ball.”
O’Donoghue has mentored sophomore free safety Colten Fisher from the first day of practice.
“He pointed me in the right direction and got me used to playing varsity football,” Fisher said. “He really knows what he’s doing and he’s helped me out a lot; he’s a great leader for me to look up to.”
O’Donoghue also starts on offense at wide receiver. It is no surprise that he doesn’t block like a stereotypical version of a wideout.
“It makes a difference to have a big imposing kid at wide receiver,” Kaider said. “He can really block out there on the edge.”