At the beginning of his first season on the Hilltop, former Georgetown men’s lacrosse attack Reilly O’Connor (COL ’15) filled in some general information on a first-year student-athlete questionnaire. His hometown: Brooklin, Ontario. His high school: The Hill Academy. His career goal: to play professional lacrosse in the National Lacrosse League.
After four years as a significant contributor on the men’s lacrosse team, three years under new Head Coach Kevin Warne, two years as captain and one particularly prolific senior season, O’Connor finally made his goal a reality when he was picked seventh overall in the first round of the 2015 NLL Draft by the Calgary Roughnecks on Sept. 28.
To his former teammates and coaches, O’Connor’s legacy is defined by his leadership — not only in his more traditional role of team captain, but also as a role model and vocal supporter during the ups and downs of each season.
Warne said he believes that O’Connor’s capacity to lead and adapt will be a tremendous advantage for the Roughnecks.
“I’m really happy for him,” Warne said. “This is something that he’s always looked forward to. … Calgary is getting a winner, Calgary is getting a guy that’s worked extremely hard and he’ll be a tremendous asset to their organization.”
O’Connor and the rest of his class saw many changes during their four years at Georgetown.
The first, and perhaps the most significant, was a complete change in coaching staff. Former head coach Dave Urick — a Georgetown coaching legend who posted winning records in all 23 of his seasons on the Hilltop — retired after O’Connor’s freshman season in 2012.
Warne stepped up to the helm of the program in 2013, and the team faced significant challenges during his first two seasons. After two years of posting sub-.500 records, the team managed to turn things around in 2015, posting a winning record, climbing into the national polls and making an appearance in the Big East tournament championship game.
Warne says O’Connor’s commitment to the team’s new philosophy and goals, as well as his positive attitude both on and off the field, were major factors in the team’s climb back to success during his senior season.
“He was the guy that really set the tone every day,” Warne said. “Georgetown lacrosse meant a lot to him. [He] decided after his junior year to say, ‘I want to make sure I leave a great legacy during my senior year.’ He did all the right things, he worked hard and he was really encouraging to the guys, whether it was in practice or on game day. … I think he always understood the ‘why,’ and I think he was great in helping our offense. … He brought a great respect to us and to our team.”
O’Connor attributes a lot of his success to the coaching staff at Georgetown, including Warne, Matt Rewkoski and Justin Ward, and their guidance through adversity and success alike.
“I think I improved a lot [at Georgetown],” O’Connor said. “Not so much just on the field, with things like my strength and my speed and my overall game, but also off the field. Being a two-time captain and learning from Coach Urick my first year and Coach Warne, Coach Rewkowski and Coach Ward really taught me a lot about how to handle myself and how to prepare properly and just the little things that you don’t really think matter a lot but make the biggest difference.”
Though his post-graduate professional career marks a fresh start for O’Connor, it is also a homecoming of sorts. O’Connor currently coaches full-time at his former high school, The Hill Academy, in addition to preparing for the Roughnecks’ upcoming season.
“I’m coaching two different teams here, which is great — it allows me to be involved in the game I love and it also gives me the flexibility to stay in shape and continue to pursue my dream of playing professional lacrosse,” O’Connor said.
In addition, O’Connor will reunite with his former teammate from Team Canada under-19: Wesley Berg, who was selected fourth overall in the NLL Draft by the Roughnecks. In recent years, however, Berg was a rival; he was the leading attack for the University of Denver, which joined the Big East in 2014 and has remained undefeated against conference rivals ever since. Denver toppled Georgetown in the 2015 Big East championship game in a 16-8 decision and eventually went on to win the NCAA National Championship. Berg was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and the Big East Offensive Player of the Year after the 2015 season.
For O’Connor, the past is in the past — he’s looking forward to the chance to wear the same jersey as Berg again.
“We became good friends [on Team Canada] and have stayed in touch ever since,” O’Connor said. “Obviously the past couple years he’s been on the opposing sideline — he’s been on Denver while I’ve been at Georgetown — and we usually came down on the short end of the stick. So to be on a team with him, a good friend and also an amazing player, is something I’m really looking forward to.”
The Calgary Roughnecks are one of nine teams in the NLL and begins league competition Jan. 2. In the meantime, O’Connor is looking forward to becoming a true part of the Calgary organization.
“[They] do things the right way, starting with their ownership and general manager and their coaching staff, who have proven their success and are bringing back a lot of key players, mostly their whole team, and I’m just looking forward to joining that and helping them even more,” O’Connor said.
With the solid foundation of his Georgetown legacy, a current full-time job with his former high school team and the clean slate the upcoming 2016 season offers, O’Connor is looking forward to his future.
“Lacrosse is kind of the biggest thing in my life,” O’Connor said. “It’s my passion and what I love to do, so I’ve got a great set-up here.”