Dec 7th, 2012 | Why Nobody Messes With Mike O’Brien
by Samuel Perley
Known for his relentless toughness and fierce competitive qualities, it’s no wonder the Copperheads Craig Rosecrans used the culturally popular villain from Rocky IV to describe teammate, defenseman Mike O’Brien. “Mike is a dude you don’t want to see down a dark alley,” says Rosecrans. “He’s a savage. A tenacious defender. One of the most physical players I’ve ever come across,” teammate Thomas Langan chipped in. And yet similar to his fictional Soviet counterpart, outside of the lacrosse arena O’Brien is a “soft-spoken, responsible and respectful person” says head coach Tom Ryan. The careful balance between intense, fearless competitor on the field and laidback, mildly reserved human being off the field is likely what makes the dynamic O’Brien not only a phenomenal lacrosse player but an intriguing and captivating member of the Charlotte Copperheads organization.
Raised in East Haven, CT, O’Brien got his start in organized sports playing hockey but got introduced to field lacrosse in eighth grade. While hockey was always his primary sport, his skills in lacrosse eventually developed to the point where he was being recruited by some top level lacrosse programs while attending The Gunnery School.
O’Brien chose to attend Hobart College in upstate New York which attracted him because of its “steeped lacrosse tradition, great facilities and academics.” Notably, Hobart College is Division III in all sports except lacrosse which has been in Division I since 2005, a testament to the level of excellence their program has established which includes sixteen national championships over Division II, Division III and USILA.
Hobart head lacrosse coach, T.W. Johnson, first saw O’Brien at a camp and was immediately impressed by not only his talent but also the quality of person he was. “We liked his toughness and ability. He was a strong, fast and physical player,” said Johnson. “We had great recommendations about Mike as somebody that was not only a great lacrosse player but also someone with high character,” he added.
Although he only played marginally during his freshman season, “Mike was always practicing as if he was a starter,” said Johnson. Although he was noticeably quiet, “people listened when he spoke and he certainly had the respect of the team,” Johnson added. But once he stepped over the lines on game day though, “he was a different person,” the head coach was quick to follow up with. When asked to best sum up coaching O’Brien during his four seasons in college, Johnson responded “I knew what I was getting out of [O’Brien] every single day. Not many players can do that. He was a great person to be around, a great leader and a special person.”
While at Hobart, O’Brien was a three year starter and started on a defense that was ranked 10th nationally during his sophomore season. He was also named team captain during his senior season and ranks fourth all-time on the Hobart career list for caused turnovers with 22.
O’Brien got introduced to the box version of lacrosse through some Canadian teammates at Hobart and soon began playing for the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves in the highly competitive Canadian Junior A League during the summer of 2008 and 2009. One of these teammates was Evan Kirk, who now plays goaltender for the National Lacrosse League’s Minnesota Swarm. While with the Braves, O’Brien specialized as a transition specialist and on the penalty-killing unit. The defenseman was a two-time Junior A All-Star and recorded seventeen points in his two seasons in Kitchener, a major achievement for an American player playing in the top league of a predominantly Canadian sport.
After his two summer seasons playing box lacrosse in Canada, O’Brien admitted “life got in the way” the next couple years and he took some time off playing indoors during his summers away from Hobart. Upon graduating from Hobart in 2011 with a degree in Environmental Studies, O’Brien moved south to Newport News, VA where he worked at Hampton Roads Academy teaching 7th grade geography and 9th grade biology. O’Brien currently works there now as the assistant director of admission and school’s head lacrosse coach winning a State Championship in his first year.
Despite his best attempts to make it into the NLL, O’Brien came up short but was able to draw some attention at scouting combines when he heard about the creation of the PLL. One of O’Brien’s former coaches in Kitchener, Corey Hallman, was a former assistant coach under Copperheads coach Tom Ryan when he was head of the NLL’s Boston Blazers. “Hallman was able to speak on my behalf,” O’Brien said and he ultimately ended up landing a roster spot with the Copperheads.
As evidenced, his time in Charlotte has impressed a number of his new Copperheads teammates. “[O’Brien] is the kind of teammate you can always rely on to have your back on the floor. His work ethic and intensity on the field is second to none,” said teammate Brian Welch. “You can actually see opponents eye him up and move the ball. Dude is not to be messed with,” he added.
Recently, O’Brien’s tenacity and on-field intensity with the Charlotte Copperheads have caught the eye of the NLL’s Swarm and O’Brien spent the past weekend at their training camp in Minnesota where he impressed the team officials enough to warrant being invited back for the second round of training camp. “I am sure the Swarm has seen the same thing we saw all those years at Hobart,” said Johnson. “We are definitely rooting for him,” he added. Regardless of whether or not O’Brien ultimately ends up in the NLL, he has proven himself time and time again on and off the lacrosse field throughout his career that not only does he possess unparalleled intensity, relentless focus and outstanding work ethic as an athlete but he is as equally if not more defined by his well-respected character and integrity as a person.