Ian Oconnor RFH Football NJ
Jan 03, 2019

RFH Football Hero

By Lori Draz and Ian O'Connor

Ian Oconnor RFH Football NJ 1

This month’s author is Rumson’s Ian O’Connor, an 18-year-old senior at RFH. Last month, Ian played a key role in the astounding victory of RFH in the NJSIAA III Central/South Championship, or South Group 3 Bowl Championship held at Met Stadium. For Ian, it was not only the thrill of a lifetime, but the culmination of years of hard work, teamwork and dedication. As we focus on health and fitness this month, we are proud to have Ian share the lessons he has learned from athletics. Congratulations to Ian and all the Bulldogs. Here is Ian’s story. 

The two aspects of my life I value the most are resiliency and time management. For as long as I can remember, sports have been such an important part of my life. I remember starting to play basketball in the second grade. I was the tallest kid on the team, but I didn’t have much skill. It was then that I recognized I had a lot to learn. I first joined the Rumson Rec team, and after playing for one year expanded to playing on a travel team. That’s where my passion for athletics began.

One of the earliest lessons that I learned in my athletic career was taking responsibility for myself. My AAU basketball Central Jersey Hawks coach, Fred Klasky, always taught us to pack our own bags and not have our parents do it for us. That showed me that I needed to be responsible for my own self and my success. This also made me learn the importance of being mentally prepared. Getting ready the night before a game or another task has stuck with me in life. I have found success in getting things done as they happen, rather than letting them pile up.

I wanted to add football once I got to high school. Even though I had never played football, I wanted to take a chance on it. I didn’t want to look back at my high school experience and think that I missed something that could have been special. It’s a decision I don’t regret. I have built close relationships and have learned countless life lessons with my basketball and football teammates and coaches.

Last year at our Sectional Championship Football game at Rutgers, we lost to Somerville. I felt broken. We worked so hard, but the opposing team held the trophy. I was determined to work harder so that I wouldn’t have to experience that again. From that moment on, I also made sure that whenever we won, I would first acknowledge the opposing team’s hard work before celebrating with my teammates. I remember what it felt like to be them.

I’ve been inspired by many great coaches and players. Chris Champeau (Shempy), my RFH basketball coach, has taught hard work and success by example. He has transformed the RFH basketball program into one of the best public school programs around. My football coaches have taught me the importance of hard work and dedication. I’ve seen how much work they have put in regardless of the other obligations in their lives. These coaches have all shown that it is important to show up every day, and how missing just even one practice can set you back.

As captain of the football and basketball teams, I have worked hard to try and keep everyone on the same page. I also try to always give my teammates positive reinforcement. I believe we can improve as a team rather than pointing fingers at one person. Losses happen when you point fingers rather than accepting responsibility as a team.

Athletics have instilled in me the impact of commitment. I remember thinking as a kid attending RFH games, “I want to be like them.” I had no idea how hard I would have to work to get there. When I started lifting in high school, Coach Orrok would give presentations on nutrition. These presentations motivated me to start owning what I put in my body. I would pack my own healthy lunch for school, and I stopped bringing money to school so I would not be tempted by the unhealthy cafeteria choices of food. Eating right isn’t always easy, but I know proper nutrition is important if you want to be an elite athlete.

Another important aspect of being an elite athlete is consistency in recovery. I spend a great deal of time working out and almost as much time recovering from workouts. Before every practice, I go to Coach Stein, the athletic trainer’s office, to heat, stretch and ice areas of soreness. I also take at least half of my lunchtime each day to do the same. When I work with younger kids in summer camp, I always educate them on the importance of hydrating on a hot summer day and continuing to move to prevent injury.

Hard work does have rewards. One of my proudest moments was playing in the South Jersey Bowl Game at MetLife Stadium. The Giants have always been my favorite football team, and being able to play and win on their turf was a rewarding feeling for all of my teammates’ dedication. I will never forget it.

I will be continuing my football career at Lehigh University. I know I will be starting from square one as a freshman again and trying to fight for a position on the team, but I’m willing to work hard to make it happen. I am grateful for having received a scholarship offer and ready to continue my academic and athletic careers. I have many people to thank. Without the support of my coaches, friends and family, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would especially like to thank my parents for all of the sacrifices they have made.