MEXICO — Jacob O’Reilly could only laugh at the notion of switching to quarterback like his older brother and football idol, Josh, but the versatile two-way lineman’s desire to make a similar impact on the Mexico football program is no joke.
Jacob O’Reilly — a rugged cornerstone of the Tigers’ offensive and defensive lines entering his third varsity season as a junior — is looking to help guide Mexico back from a winless 2018 season to re-enter its perennial contender status in the Section 3 Class B East Division.
The Tigers are scheduled to kick off the upcoming season at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Chittenango.
“We want revenge and we want to do way better this year, so we came into this season ready,” O’Reilly said. “For me, I just want to be a leader of the team, just bring what I can bring to this team and help out whoever needs help.”
O’Reilly said he was inspired by his brother to join Mexico Pop Warner football around the age of eight, and has continued to look up to his elder throughout his playing career. Josh O’Reilly graduated in 2018 after two varsity seasons, including a strong senior year as starting quarterback.
Jacob O’Reilly has lined up mostly on both interior lines throughout each level of the Mexico program, developing into one of the toughest two-way linemen in the area, and paused before laughing at the idea of playing under center to follow directly in his brother’s path.
“No, nah, never, I’m bigger than (Josh) and I was just kind of built to be a lineman,” Jacob O’Reilly said. “He’s definitely way more athletic than me, for sure, but we both work hard. ... He’s always pushed me because I wanted to do stuff like him and I always wanted to be at the top.”
Although quarterback doesn’t appear to be in the plans, 17th-year head varsity coach Tee Murabito said that O’Reilly is learning several new positions on each side of the ball in order to best utilize his exceptional athleticism and multifaceted skill set.
Murabito described the older O’Reilly brother as a “no-nonsense, hard work guy,” and said that Jacob O’Reilly has displayed a similar work ethic and leadership traits entering his junior campaign.
“(Josh) was one of the few kids I’ve had in my 28 years of coaching football that never took a rep off as long as I had him on my practice field, and he’s on his little brother about having that same type of attitude and approach,” Murabito said. “So I can see his influence in him and he must have influenced him for this year because I can see Jake’s approach has picked up quite a bit. He’s recognized that our team needs some leadership and he’s stepped up and filled that role for us, just like his brother did.”
O’Reilly was one of 18 returning players on a roster of 23, one of the smallest in Murabito’s tenure for the second straight season. Murabito said that the modified team consists of nearly 60 participants and the program is expecting a participation boost for next season with only four players set to graduate.
“We’re down on guys so we just have to play as a team, work hard,” said O’Reilly, who also plays baseball and wrestles, and plans to join the Air Force after high school. “Obviously we want that championship but right now, we just have to work together and see what we can bring this season.”
The Tigers reached the postseason in four straight years prior to last season’s struggles, including a 4-4 overall mark during O’Reilly’s freshman year.
Murabito said that he and his veteran players believe that Mexico is in position to surprise teams with their competitive nature this year, due to its high percentage of returning players that gained valuable experience while enduring the 0-7 campaign last fall.
“This program is everything to me, I would never give up on this team,” O’Reilly said. “We could go 0-7 again and I would always be working hard for this team.”
Junior linebackers/fullbacks P.J. Wallis and Dylan Moreno, along with sophomore quarterback Ethan West, sophomore running back/defensive back Derrick Sciarabba, and two-way linemen Mason Burton, Joe Becker, and Jonathon Rasbeck are also expected to be critical components toward Mexico’s chances of producing a bounce-back season.
THE O’REILLY FILE
Grade, age: Junior, 16.
Other school activities: wrestling, baseball.
College plans: Air Force.
Family: Parents, James and Nicole; Brothers, Austin and Josh.