Parkite invited to national showcase despite never playing an organized game of football

Michael O’Brien, a sophomore at Park City High School, has been invited to the prestigious Football University Top Gun camp held in Rock Hill, South Carolina, from July 12-14.
Courtesy of Karen O’Brien

As a freshman wide receiver, Michael O’Brien stood injured on the sideline during the Park City High School football season last year, contemplating when his football career would actually get underway.

Instead of suiting up for his first game, O’Brien suffered an injury a week before the start of the season and was relegated to the sidelines. During a drill as an outside linebacker, O’Brien was hit hard and fell on his wrist, breaking it in two places. Six weeks in a cast and months of physical therapy had him wondering if football was the sport for him to participate in.

“It was really hard to get hurt like that — I’ve waited to play football my entire life and then, just like that, I wasn’t playing anymore,” O’Brien, a rising sophomore, said. “But I made sure I was at every game and nearly every practice, helping the team in anyway possible while learning the game as best I could.”

How quickly things change — just under a year from when he laid on the ground holding his broken wrist, O’Brien’s football career has now taken off.

After testing among the top participants at wide receiver at a Football University camp in Boston last month, O’Brien, a future two-way player for the Miners, has been invited to FBU’s Top Gun camp from July 12-14.

“I can’t believe where I’m at right now, but I’m just trying to be as confident as possible, trying to be the best wide receiver I can be.” O’Brien said. “I want to play in college and this is only going to help me get there.”

The FBU Top Gun Showcase in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is an annual national event designed to highlight the best high school student-athletes in the country. It’s an intense position-specific test of technical skill and ability that recruiting resources such as 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals use to evaluate the country’s top high school football players.

Previous stars of the FBU Top Gun camp include Joey Bosa (San Diego Chargers), Jamal Adams (New York Jets), Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers), Jonathan Allen (Washington Redskins) and Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans, Heisman trophy winner), football players who were all-Americans in college before becoming first round NFL draft picks.

The Boston camp was eye-opening for O’Brien, 15.

After getting the feel for the speed and athleticism of the other participants the first day, O’Brien really took off on the second day. His combination of size at 6 foot 2 and 170 pounds and of athleticism helped him star in the one on one portions of the camp as well as the ball drills in the air.

“I started to dominate in the 1-v-1 practices, really showing a burst off the line that helped me beat the coverages,” O’Brien said. “With every rep, my confidence started to grow and I began to use my size and strength to my advantage, which really helped me stand out.”

O’Brien received an invite to the Top Gun camp via email a few days after testing well at the Boston camp.

“The evaluations I got back from the wide receiver coach were really positive — saying I had a lot of potential and am just scratching the surface of how good I can be,” O’Brien said. “I already have a lot of tools that college coaches are looking for, but now I have to continue to get better and keep working hard.”

What kept O’Brien out of football prior to high school was his mother’s love, always wanting to protect her son from the dangers that come with playing football.

Karen O’Brien, Michael’s mother, knew all about what happens to kids who play football prior to high school and she wanted to keep her son from receiving traumatic brain injuries. While she succeeded in that regard, injuries are part of the game, and with Michael getting hurt early on, Karen realized that there was only so much she could control.

“He always wanted to play when he was younger but I found that keeping him out of tackle football was the best way to keep him safe, or so I thought,” Karen said. “He had previously broke his arm in baseball, so when he broke his wrist in football, I couldn’t blame the game anymore and had to just let him play.”

This whole situation is new to both Michael and Karen. While they both hoped he’d receive college scholarships later on in high school, neither expected the opportunity to come so early on, especially in football considering he’s showed promise as a baseball player his whole life.

That’s why the support of former pro baseball and football player Nate Washington has been instrumental in Michael’s growth and calming Karen’s mind.

Washington is all too familiar with what’s taking place, having been a two-sport star at Missouri Western and playing football and baseball at the professional level. While he’s been helping prepare Michael for the upcoming Top Gun camp, he also sees a bright future for Michael in the sport.

“He’s (Michael) got the raw hands, the body; the size and the athleticism to really take off in the game,” Washington said. “He needs to work on his footwork while getting stronger and more technically sound, but I see him as a future flex-Y or tight end, very similar to Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten.”

With everything coming at the O’Briens fast, Karen is aware of the fact that football is in the family DNA. Her grandfather, Peter Karpawich, is in the Holy Cross University Hall of Fame as a standout wide receiver. Karen has honored her grandfather by passing along his name to her son, Michael Peter.

She also understands the opportunity football will give her son and although the future may be scary, she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t bubble wrap my children. I just got to support him and encourage him to work as hard as possible to achieve his goals,” Karen said. “Football brings out a whole other level of competitiveness, grit and toughness, and I want that for him. Football gives him that confidence that will help carry him far in life that other sports can’t.”


Alex Hall makes habit of gold in Beijing

Stifel U.S. Freeski Team athlete and Olympic champion Alex Hall secured the win in big air at Beijing, the same location where he clinched his Olympic victory in slopestyle at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.

See more

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.