Big opening game helps wipe frustration away for Florida State’s Nick O’Leary


Nick O’Leary became the sixth Seminole tight end to grab at least two touchdown passes in a game.


Nick O’Leary;Sept. 2, 2013;Pittsburgh;3

Warren Hart;Sept. 7, 1991;Tulane;3

Melvin Pearsall;Nov. 5, 1994;Georgia Tech;2

Lonnie Johnson;Sept. 11, 1993;Clemson;2

Hardis Johnson;Sept. 13, 1980;Louisville;2

Ron Shomburger;Oct. 30, 1954;VMI;2

Nick O’Leary had just caught three touchdown passes — each more wide open than the last — when his dad, Bill, and his grandfather, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, were able to laugh about the frustration of the past two years.

“Jack and I looked at each other and said, ‘That one game was more fun than the last two years combined,’ ’’ Bill O’Leary said.

Quarterback Jameis Winston may have stolen the headlines with his stunning debut Monday night at Heinz Field, but Bill O’Leary knew the significance of his son’s performance in the Seminoles’ season-opening 41-13 rout of Pittsburgh.

Nick O’Leary, a junior, has hoped for the past two years to become more involved in the passing game. And even after catching 21 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns last season, the former Dwyer High standout was not satisfied.

“It was just a level of frustration he had not getting the ball,” Bill O’Leary said. “And then to be able to score three times in one game, what he did all season last year, it was a feeling of elation.

“He loved it. He was in such a great mood after the game. It was so nice to see him come out of that locker room and be lit up like a candle.”

O’Leary was confident he would be much more than a blocking tight end after working with Winston this summer. The two developed a bond, something that O’Leary said was lacking between him and former quarterback EJ Manuel. That connection was rewarded after one game as both players earned national recognition this week with O’Leary being named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week and Winston earning the Davey O’Brien Quarterback of the Week.

“I knew I was going to be more a part of the offense this year, being real good friends with Jameis,” O’Leary said Thursday. “We had a good relationship all camp. (He was) getting the ball to me. We encourage each other on the practice field. And when we make mistakes, (we) just pick each other up.”

The Seminoles expected O’Leary to be a big part of Monday’s game plan, figuring the Panthers would pay more attention to veteran receivers Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw.

“We liked that (matchup) and in certain situations we knew we could get Nick the ball,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We called a lot of balls like that to him last year, and all of a sudden they’d double him and give us somebody else. It worked out (Monday) and Jameis made the right reads and got the ball to the right people.

“When Nick gets one-on-one, he’s tough to handle.”

O’Leary had four catches for 47 yards. His first two resulted in Florida State’s first two touchdowns of the season. He was wide open on a corner-post late in the first quarter, hauling in the 24-yard pass from Winston near the goal line and walked into the end zone untouched.

Early in the second quarter, the Seminoles lined up in the jumbo package on Pittsburgh’s 2-yard line with defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel in the backfield. Winston froze the defense with play-action, O’Leary slipped through the line and was even more wide open in the back of the end zone.

The hat trick was completed with 9:32 remaining in the game when O’Leary was open in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard score. O’Leary said he cannot remember another game in his life in which he scored three touchdowns.

The pass completed Winston’s five-touchdown night (four passing, one running) and capped a night in which O’Leary joined Warren Hart as the only two tight ends in FSU history to score three touchdowns in a game. Hart had three TD grabs scoring catches against Tulane in 1991.

“Nick had an outstanding game,” Winston said. “He’s one of the veterans we have on our team. He was prepared.

“Tight end, three touchdowns! C’mon, man.”

O’Leary’s breakout game gives FSU opponents one more weapon to be concerned about. If they think about sending a safety to help the linebacker, that could free up one of the Seminoles’ big-play receivers.

Either way, O’Leary will make sure that frustration from last season doesn’t resurface.

“They’re probably going to key on me a little more,” he said. “Maybe have two guys on me. But I still have to do what I have to do to get open.

“I’m ready to be one of the best tight ends to come out of Florida State.”

See, never satisfied.