By Jimmy Allinder
Owen Donnelly is a rising senior at Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen and a key member of the Falcons’ soccer and golf teams.
The gifted student-athlete says the sports couldn’t be more different.
“Both golf and soccer demand that I utilize what I have practiced, but that’s where it ends,” Donnelly said. “A crucial aspect of golf is thinking methodically before each shot, but soccer requires more spontaneity and creativity to stay ahead of the opponent.”
Not only has “O,” as he is nicknamed, been able to become a standout in each sport, but he has been equally successful — if not more so — in the classroom. Based on a cumulative grade-point average that hovers around 4.76, Donnelly is ranked in the top five of his class.
Owen also participates in numerous clubs at St. Joe’s, including Campus Ministry, and is a member of the National Honor Society. He somehow combines his busy extracurricular activities with playing two varsity sports at a high level.
Donnelly says there’s a purpose for this whirlwind of activity.
“Most people my age fail to see the importance of establishing a foundation to build on the future,” Donnelly said. “Recognizing the benefits of balancing sports with extracurricular activities has motivated me throughout high school.”
This attitude permeates to his approach to playing soccer and golf.
“I’m a defensive center midfielder, and a lot of things are surging through my brain when I’m on the soccer field,” he said. “I’m always thinking about where I am in relationship to my teammates. I try to be mindful of the whole field because many attacking developments start from my defensive and offensive work.”
It may sound complex, but consider Donnelly as a key piece on a chess board. His reactions are designed to keep opponents on their heels.
Donnelly handles another important role for his team.
“As captain, I have to be responsible for my team’s actions toward referees, opposing players and coaches, so I have to always remain calm and collected, even when emotions are high,” he said.
“We are looking for Owen to provide the kind of leadership our team needs this fall [to succeed],” St. Joe’s coach Brian Jenkins said. “He’s been around since his sophomore year, he’s played in the [Greater Middlesex Conference] championship game and he’s one of the smartest players around. His mentality and work ethic will set the tone for what we hope is a great season.”
On the golf course, Donnelly is also expected to provide leadership since he is the only senior. His coach, Ryan Lechner, believes Donnelly is up to the challenge.
“He’s going to need to elevate his game so he can lead by example and through words,” Lechner said. “But it’s a role O welcomes.”
“The mental aspect of golf is a challenge,” Donnelly said. “My approach is to apply what I’ve practiced in the face of pressure, especially during important matches. I need to trust the work I put in will pay off and keep my emotions in check even after I hit a bad shot. If I don’t, things can get out of hand.”
Donnelly plans to play soccer in college, but he hasn’t decided where he will matriculate. Wherever Donnelly goes, it will be to a top university because of his well-rounded academic and athletic achievements.
Donnelly’s family has been the cornerstone for his success and his mother, Cheryl, has been a major supporter when it came to sports.
“When I didn’t have a good day [regardless the sport], she was the one that picked me up,” he said. “My brother, Ethan, has also been a great role model. He also played soccer and golf and graduated at the top of his class, so the bar has been set high. Finally, my father, Peter, has had the greatest influence on my golf game. He taught me everything and how to have class on and off the course.”
Building a balance between the demands of school and sports has always been a challenge, Donnelly says. But the fundamental beliefs instilled by his parents have helped him succeed, even during the stressful times in his life.
“I have been taught to work hard even if I don’t see immediate results,” he said. “It’s that work ethic that often leads to new opportunities, and they will eventually pay off.”
They already have.