By Jenelyn Russo     8/9/2015

Growing up in a football family meant that Riley O’Brien was destined to find his way to the Friday night lights.

“I’ve always had a football in my hand,” says O’Brien. “I started playing football at a very young age. It’s always been a part of my life and part of my family’s life.”

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The JSerra Catholic High School junior is one more player in a line of O’Brien family members who have a history on the gridiron in the Trinity League—all under the direction of the Lions varsity football head coach, Jim Hartigan. O’Brien’s father played for Mater Dei High School, his uncle for Santa Margarita Catholic High School and his older brother, Conor, is his current teammate on JSerra’s squad.

For the 17-year-old from San Clemente, there’s not much that compares to the brotherhood that comes from sharing a passion for the game.

“What I love most about football is the camaraderie,” says O’Brien. “It’s always having that brother to lean on.”

The two-way player fills the role of quarterback as well as defensive back for the Lions. And no matter which side of the ball he’s on, O’Brien is looking to be a game-changer.

“I always like having the ball,” says O’Brien. “I like being a big factor for the team.”

Hartigan knows that wherever O’Brien is on the field, he can count on him to make an impact.

“Riley is a tenacious player,” says Hartigan. “He trains and plays with a 100 percent effort every day.”

And for Hartigan, it’s a bonus to coach the brother duo.

“It’s tough to talk about one without talking about the other,” says Hartigan of the O’Brien brothers. “They both play very well off of each other and both bring a wonderful skill set to our team.”

Each spring, O’Brien also represents the Lions on the track as a sprinter, competing in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as the 4 x 100 meter relay.

“It gets me better for football, but it also gives me a break from football,” says O’Brien about the dual benefits of running track.

With a goal of playing football at the collegiate level, O’Brien often turns to the support of his father to help him navigate the grind of the game.

“He’s always been that football role model,” says O’Brien. “But he’s also there to build me up when I’m down…when I need that extra motivation to keep going. He’s a huge part of my life.”

Grateful for the chance to grow up with football, O’Brien soaks up all he can from the sport.

“Football has taught me…to never give up,” says O’Brien. “Life is going to be a struggle. Keep fighting, because you’re always going to fail, but how you come back from that failure is how you’re going to succeed.”