by Tom Pedulla –
Reserve players in all sports constantly hear that from coaches. Easier said than done.
When players lose a competition for a starting position, staying ready becomes as much of a mental challenge as it is physical. Opportunities in practice tend to dwindle. The “stay ready” mantra of coaches begins to sound stale.
Conor McMahon, a junior at Hackley, did not allow himself to become dispirited when senior Charlie Hite won the quarterback job before the regular season. He did, indeed, stay ready, and the Hornets reaped the rewards of that after Hite broke his collarbone in a Sept. 22 loss to Rye Country Day.
“He’s been one of the hardest working kids on the team since he was a freshman,” said third-year coach Simon Berk. “He’s always been looking for an opportunity. So, when the moment came, he was prepared.”
McMahon never wished for his chance to come that way. When he saw Hite in distress, he wanted as much as anyone for him to be able to complete his final season.
“I hoped he was going to be okay and get himself up,” McMahon said. “Then I saw his pads come off.”
It was suddenly up to the 6-1, 175-pound junior to show what he could do. He quickly responded by leading Hackley to consecutive road victories at Hopkins and Montclair Kimberly.
Berk knew it was asking a lot, especially at the critical quarterback position.
“I think it’s incredibly difficult,” the coach said of the challenge McMahon faced. “Everyone is looking at you, everyone knows who the quarterback is, and there’s a lot of pressure even before you get the ball.”
Berk said of the injury to Hite, “It’s one of the worst parts of the game. Thankfully, we had a kid ready to take over, but we certainly miss Charlie and you always feel for a senior who can’t play out the rest of his season.”
Jack Kneisley, a team captain, was impressed by McMahon’s response as he transitioned from linebacker to offensive leader for the Hopkins game.
“That’s the hardest I’ve ever seen anyone work in preparation for a game,” he said. “Conor stepped into the role full force. He dedicated himself completely. He stayed after practice to work on throws. He stayed after practice to talk to coach about plays. He came in early to watch extra film. He’s doing everything he can to make himself the best he can be for the season. The guy really hopped on that train.”
McMahon appreciates how much Hite helped him through a difficult situation, essentially becoming an additional coach for him. “He’s been there the whole time, pushing me, telling me to get better and giving me advice,” the underclassman said. “It’s really awesome how he has supported me.”
McMahon epitomizes the student-athlete that Hackley strives to develop. Once the football season ended, he looked forward to developing his acting skills and appearing in the school play.
“Going into a new person, a new character, is really releasing for me,” he said. “It’s no secret that it is a lot of work here, so it is relaxing for me to be able to meet new people and embody a new character.”
He also serves as a representative on the Board of Magistrates, which works to resolve student disciplinary issues, and participates in the Hackley Leadership Club, which explores different kinds of leadership. Once spring arrives, he plays lacrosse.
“He is a model Hackley student,” Berk said.