When Lynnfield senior Michael O’Brien signed his National Letter of Intent (NLI) to continue his football career at Saint Anselm College, a number of emotions were running through his head. But the two main ones were gratitude and pride.
“I’m just so grateful for all the time I was able to spend here at Lynnfield and for all of the memories I made over these past four years,” said O’Brien, who happens to be the grandson of Boston Bruins legend Ken Hodge. “From the minute I stepped foot on the field here as an eighth-grader for workouts, the school, program and community have all been so supportive and welcoming. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to play high-school football.”
“This is a guy who can only be described with one word — relentless,” said Lynnfield coach Pat Lamusta. “His work ethic and his determination to return to the field and be there for his teammates was incredible and it’s going to serve him well moving forward.”
But O’Brien’s career at Lynnfield High has not been without its ups and downs. Some of the ups included getting the starting nod at center as a sophomore and getting more votes as a team captain than almost any other player in recent memory.
But the downs were tough. Early in his junior season — which if you remember was played from March to May this past year — O’Brien took a strange hit on his knee and tore his ACL, ending his season before it could really even begin. The news became even worse when his doctors and a number of physical trainers told him that his football career may very well be over entirely.
“That was really tough to hear, and I was almost in denial at first,” said O’Brien, who noted that he never truly even considered giving up on football. “But to be honest, that might be what motivated me the most to come back and play. I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
And prove them wrong he did.
On Oct. 15, 2021, less than eight months after suffering an injury that normally takes more than a year to heal, O’Brien — who stands at 6 feet 2 inches and weighs in at 290 pounds — was back on the field with his Pioneer teammates and making an impact on the field.
“It was a lot of hard work, but I never wanted to give up,” said O’Brien. “I pushed myself every day to come back and play, but I stayed smart the whole time and made sure I didn’t rush things.”
A big part of O’Brien never giving up on his dream to return to football was his efforts during his junior year both in his rehab and in working on his role with the team. Lamusta says that O’Brien never missed a workout or practice during his entire junior season, even after having surgery.
That also meant continuing to work on recruiting and finding a school that was the perfect match.
That’s where Saint Anselm came in. After initially making contact with O’Brien during his sophomore year, the Hawks stuck with O’Brien all the way through his injury and rehab.
“To be honest, when I put on that Saint Anselm jersey during my visit there, it felt like a part of me had been missing and I just found it,” said O’Brien. “They were the only guys who stuck with me ever since reaching out sophomore year and all the way through my injury, my rehab and my return. (Running backs) Coach (Price) Ferguson and (offensive line) Coach (Hunter) Mackay came by the house on Wednesday, and that just sealed the deal for me.”
And so when O’Brien signed his NLI surrounded by his family, his coach and a number of his high-school teammates, the next chapter in his football journey was started.
Now, according to O’Brien, comes the hard work.
“The level of play from high school to college football is a huge jump, and I know I’m going to have to keep working hard if I want to be able to compete for a starting spot,” said O’Brien. “After working through what I have over the past year, I think I have the ability to step in and contribute.”