By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Shane O’Brien entered the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebel Football program already known because of the years of service by his father Shannon in coaching.
In addition, big brother Sean was a part of the team. Together the O’Briens joined forces with Head Coach Dodd Gengenbach’s staff and players to transform the Rebels back into a playoff program.
Sean’s reward was a signing to Hendrix College in 2014. And for younger brother Shane, the same dream would come true in May 2015 when he inked his national letter of intent to play football at Hendrix.
“It shows if you stay with something, have a dream and aspirations, stay with it and put in the work, anything can happen,” Gengenbach said. “Shane started out like any other freshman coming into the program. He stayed true to what we asked him, the process of learning in the weight room, the process of learning what we needed on offense and defense. It’s a testament to Shane getting here today and doing what he’s doing.”
The youngest O’Brien had his father/defensive coordinator Shannon and mother Sherrie by his side in the TRA Lobby as he signed to join the program that has improved his brother in just one year.
“It feels amazing,” Shane said. “This is a dream come true. The great thing about watching Sean and seeing where he went, the experience he got from his program. So, when I saw his eyes light up and how he performed his first year there, his speed and size increased. And that’s what I’m looking for in a program. That’s why I am excited about going to Hendrix.”
Sherrie said the family is happy to be reunited. The O’Briens won’t have to decide on Saturdays which game to attend or do split duty.
“Togetherness, keeping it together,” she noted. “It’s important because they can build off each other at the same time obtain their own independence. It’s just easier to take them to the same place.”
Shannon said his boys will now live an experience he enjoyed in college.
“I played college ball with my brother for two years in Maryville,” he recalled. “Although we were brothers on the same team, we still lived separate lives. That’s what the two of them are going to do there.
“It is nice that on Saturdays we don’t have to flip a coin or we don’t have to sit on opposite sides or wear a split T-shirt,” Shannon added. “I’m just thrilled to have both of them playing a quality program like Hendrix College. There coaching staff is unbelievable.”
Shane said it was his father’s coaching that made him love the game, develop into a middle linebacker and see time on the offensive side of the ball.
“The path started when I really started to grasp my Dad being a football coach when he was the head coach of St. Benedict in 2003,” he said. “I would hang out with the guys. All the players were great. And it was just building that football mentality at an early age all the way up to now. I could really sense how important football is to my family.”
Gengenbach had a inside view of the family bond coaching along with Shannon the O’Brien brothers. Sean was a key defensive back and receiver for TRA helping the Rebels reach the playoff for the first time in years in 2013.
Shane and the Class of 2015 kept the momentum going reaching the postseason this past campaign.
“On the field the biggest thing he brought was the intellect,” Gengenbach said. “He really did a great job of getting us lined up where we needed to get lined up. He recognized fronts from the opposing offensive formation. He got us in the right fronts. He did that stuff on the fly. From an intellect side, he’s really come miles from where he started.
“He is a tough kid,” he said. “That was something our program needed, that physical toughness that comes with being a football player. He brought that to the forefront. He’s really going to be missed next year.”
The coaching side of Shannon agrees with Gengenbach.
“He has been the leader of our defense basically since I took over two years ago,” he recalled. “Even thought Sean also played an influence last year with our secondary and coverages, Shane has been the main crocks.
“I would call him the quarterback of our defense,” Shannon continued. “To lose him is going to be a real big lost. He also had a great supporting cast around him of nine seniors. You lose 10 seniors off a starting defense, it’s not only Shane we’re going to miss. We’re going to miss that whole entire group.”
Shane said what the past two senior groups accomplished at TRA will live on with the returning players. He hopes he left a legacy to his past teammates to be mentality prepared for every game.
“Of course portions of the game are physical,” he said. “But it’s really only 10 percent physical, the rest is 90 percent mental. If you can’t do the mental part, well the physical part is not going to help you. It’s more important about the mental stuff because you can help others develop.”
Now Shane will try to develop his game even more with Hendrix and the experience of his big brother. Despite the excitement of returning to the field with Sean, Shane heard naysayers voice their opinions.
“I have received some criticism,” he said. “‘Like, oh you just went to be with your brother.’ I’m going to play with my brother but I’m also going because Hendrix is the best fit for me. They’re really good at what they do. Sean did play a huge part in my decision. He was the final push in the recruiting.”
Now it’s time for Shane to put on the orange and black. But he will remember his days in the red, white and blue of TRA.
“It was a rebuilding process that finally got the program back to where it needed to be,” he concluded. “Freshman year was 1-9. Sophomore year was 2-8. Then junior year we got to the playoffs for the first time. This year was fantastic — 10 times better than last year. I felt great about it.”