PEMBROKE — The quarterback is arguably the most recognizable, and most important position on any team, and there’s an extra element of recognition for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team as it preps to take on Catawba today.
Expected to start for the Indians at quarterback is Patrick O’Brien ,a name familiar with those in Pembroke after starting at that position for the Braves for the last two seasons. With one semester left of eligibility, O’Brien and the program decided to part ways and now he brings his new team to his old stomping grounds where he never lost a game.
Alpha Lamin and Tyler Hinton, two of UNCP’s captains that play on the defensive line, have the sole purpose of wreaking havoc in the backfield against a former teammate and someone they were close friends with for the two years he was at UNCP. With all the expected noise leading into the game, the two pass rushers are downplaying that aspect of this week’s game.
“We’re not even going to focus on Pat. We’re focusing on Catawba,” Lamin said. “It’s former teammate and former friend, but that doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to handle business out there Saturday.”
Hinton added: “He was a big part of our team, but he moved on and we’re focused on this season.”
O’Brien, a seventh-year senior essentially, has taken the reins of the Catawba offense this year from Reid Carlton, who is not 100 percent with a foot injury, according to the Salisbury Post. The duo split time in the win over St. Augustine’s to open the year, but against VMI on Saturday, O’Brien saw the majority of the snaps under center.
“I’m not adding any pressure on myself this week because of who we’re playing,” O’Brien told the Salisbury Post. “This is just the next game, and it’s not going to be as hard as some people think it will be for me to play it. There will be a lot of family and friends there, sure, but there’s no extra stress on me. There’s really not.”
O’Brien’s career features several stops. He entered UNCP as a freshman in 2011, was redshirted his first year and did not appear in any contests in 2012. The next step on his journey came when he transferred to UNC Charlotte to be a part of the university’s first football season in 2013, that season included a homecoming loss to UNCP. He threw three passes at Charlotte, with no completions and appeared in three contests. After sitting out the 2014 season transferring back to UNCP, O’Brien went on to lead the Braves’ offense during the 2015 and historic 2016 season.
During that two-season span, O’Brien threw for 5,372 yards, 40 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. While O’Brien had a tendency to throw interceptions for the Braves, he has cleaned up that aspect through two games with the Indians with no picks thrown through two games.
Having gone up against him in practice, Lamin feels they have more knowledge when it comes to reviewing his game, as compared to preparing for any other team.
“It’s something we are looking at. Playing against him and practicing against him every single day, we know where he wants to go,” Lamin said.
Hinton said it’s a luxury, but not an advantage knowing O’Brien’s tendencies.
“Watching film and seeing some of the things he does, I wouldn’t say it gives us an advantage but it gives us an idea what to expect,” Hinton said.
Much like his two captains on the defensive front, coach Shane Richardson sees how facing off with O’Brien in practice is helping his team, but he’s not putting much into the quarterback’s return to Pembroke.
“We faced him everyday for two years in practice and I think he does a good job. I anticipate our defense to be ready and will execute our game plan,” Richardson said. “We haven’t really focused on it at all and really haven’t talked about it a whole lot.”
While they practiced against each other for two years, O’Brien donned the red jersey which stopped the defense from drawing any contact with him. Hinton is ready for the real action under the lights with O’Brien wearing a Catawba uniform.
“It’s going to be fun. Like I said we aren’t thinking too much about it, but it was always fun in practice going against him,” he said. “We never got a chance to hit him, but that red jersey is gone and it’s going to be pretty fun.”
Kickoff for the game is a 7 p.m. today.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.