Zack O’Connor knew exactly what to do when he saw the football lying on the ground Friday night at Jeffersonville.
The Columbus East senior linebacker had been in roughly the same position before. In last year’s semistate win at Bloomington South, he intercepted a pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
Friday, O’Connor made it to the end zone again. He returned that Jeffersonville fumble 15 yards for a score in the second quarter of a 48-7 victory.
“It’s always fun because playing defense, you don’t get to touch the ball every game,” O’Connor said. “So when I had my opportunity, I made the most of it.”
O’Conner is playing a slightly different position this season. Last year, he was the starting middle linebacker and tied for third on the team with 60 tackles.
This year, O’Connor has moved to the “Sam,” or strong-side linebacker spot.
“It just took practice,” O’Connor said. “I played outside (linebacker) sophomore year, so it’s not like it was new to me. It’s just different reads.”
O’Connor has 37 tackles this season, including a team-high eight tackles for losses. He also leads the Olympians with two fumble recoveries.
East coach Bob Gaddis said he moved O’Connor to strong-side linebacker because he felt like O’Connor could match up with some receivers and run with them. Gaddis said O’Connor, who ran track the past three years and also is a backup tight end, is a pretty good athlete.
“He has had a really good season,” Gaddis said. “He’s just been a solid player for us. He’s done whatever we’ve asked him for four years.”
Prior to the season, East players elected O’Connor as one of four team captains. Gaddis said a lot of times, the election of captains goes to players that their teammates trust for putting in the offseason work and for their in-season leadership.
O’Connor’s football career likely will be coming to a close at the end of this season. He is planning to attend Purdue and major in industrial management, but does not plan to play football.
The Olympians are 7-1 and ranked No. 4 in Class 5A going into Friday’s regular-season finale against Bedford North Lawrence. East clinched at least a share of its 14th consecutive Hoosier Hills Conference title with the victory at Jeffersonville.
“We’ve really come together as a team in the last few weeks,” O’Connor said. “The personnel is different, but we’re playing well like we did last year at this time. We have good leaders that are getting everyone ready for the games and prepare. We’ll just have to take it week by week and beat our opponent each week and not underestimate anyone.”
Name: Zack O’Connor
School: Columbus East
Position: Outside linebacker
Key stats: 37 tackles, including eight for losses; two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown