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September 15, 2009

Jack Nicklaus' grandson is top football prospect

MORE: High School top 100 football teams |Super son: Check out Barry Sanders' kid

Let's get one thing straight: The kid can play golf.

At least he could at age 12, when he shot a 77 during just the second round he played.

But if Nick O'Leary of Dwyer High in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is going to make a name for himself in the sports world, he'll do it on the football field.

At least that's what his famous grandfather thinks.

"Nick is such a natural (athlete),'' Jack Nicklaus said about one of his 21 grandchildren. "From the time that kid was 5-6 years old - if they put him in the outfield in baseball, at the crack of the bat he would be on it. You don't teach somebody that.

"In football, if he can touch it, he catches it. If the ball is in the air, he's going to be the first one there."

His coach, Jack Daniels, says O'Leary has "the best hands I've ever seen on a high school player."

College recruiters seem to agree. As of last week, O'Leary - a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior who is expected to be one of the nation's best tight ends in the 2011 recruiting class - already had received written scholarship offers from Florida, South Carolina, Miami, Tennessee, West Virginia, Boston College and Florida International.

Interest has picked up from Ohio State (his grandfather's alma mater), USF, UCF and Wisconsin. O'Leary also said Georgia recently sent correspondence. The amount of early recruiting attention has caught the family by surprise.

"He came home [last] week with a half-dozen offers from schools in the first week they could talk to him and Nan, his mother, called me [Friday] morning and said, 'Gosh, I knew he was pretty good, but I didn't expect it this fast,' " Nicklaus said. "We have to work on keeping his head screwed on properly and have him focus on what he has to do and play his sport and enjoy it."

One thing seems to be established: O'Leary doesn't go out of his way to promote the family name - even if his first name is spelled Nicklaus rather than the traditional Nicholas.

Wide receiver Robert Clark, a 2010 West Virginia commitment, says you won't hear O'Leary talking about it.

"Somebody has to talk about him for Nick to say something about him," he said. "He doesn't bring him up."

Dwyer defensive end Curt Maggitt, a 2011 recruit and a close friend of O'Leary's said he didn't truly understand O'Leary's background until he spend some time with him this summer in the Bahamas and used Nicklaus' boat.

"He's just like another guy," Maggitt said. "He never brags or boasts about what he's got. I'm from a lower standard from where he is, but he never downgrades the next person.

"When he first got to Dwyer, it was crazy. A lot of people would come up to him and ask him about that. He doesn't want to be known for that. He wants to be his own person."

Don't be confused: O'Leary values his relationship with his grandfather. They live only a few miles apart and talk often.

"He's always telling me to work harder and to push myself to be a great athlete," O'Leary said. "He's my grandpa, so I'm talking to him all the time. He's not always talking to me about [football] all the time, really. It's just talk."

That's the way Jack likes it.

"Can I give him advice? Sure. But do I? No," Nicklaus said. "If he asks about different stuff, we talk about it. I just give him encouragement and try to be a supportive grandfather."

When it comes to football, O'Leary (who had 27 catches for 522 yards and six TDs last season) seems to get most of his advice from his coaches. He gets his inspiration from fellow tight end Gerald Christian, a 2010 recruit headed to Florida.

"I just need to work hard in practice every day, work hard in the offseason just get my skills better," he said. "(Gerald) works hard all the time and he's going to a big school and that's what I've always wished to do is go to a big school."

Nicklaus enjoys watching from a distance. He says it's important for him to watch Nick's games and take in the activities of his other 20 grandchildren whenever his busy schedule permits. Being in south Florida during football season is vital; he's a regular at Dwyer games and sometimes stops by practices.

Nicklaus also says he thinks grandparents should take a backseat and allow parents to be the dominant forces in their children's life.

Don't be confused, his parents have plenty to do with his seemingly natural athletic ability, too.

O'Leary's dad, Bill, played football at Georgia; his mom, Nan (Nicklaus' daughter) played volleyball at the school.

Which begs the next question: Where will he go to college?

O'Leary, who also is a top punter, can rattle off schools like his grandfather can rattle off major titles:

"USF, UCF, Wisconsin, Ohio State a lot, Miami, Tennessee a little bit, Florida ..." he said.

It figures to be a tough decision - perhaps even harder than most recruits in his class due to his family ties.

Nicklaus said he truly doesn't care where his grandson goes to college as long as he makes the best choice for himself.

"From a selfish standpoint, Florida would be great because it's close," Nicklaus said. "He wouldn't have to live up to his father or me. Ohio State would be great because I'd love to see him go there. Georgia would be great because of his father. It really doesn't make a difference to me."

That decision, however, is in the future. O'Leary has other things on his mind this season at Dwyer which is 1-1 after 46-0 victory over cross-town rival Palm Beach Gardens last weekend.

"I'm hoping for a state championship," he said. "I know we have the talent, we have the guys, I'm just hoping for a state championship. We just have to keep working for it."

Adam Gorney covers the University of Florida on the Rivals.com network at gatorbait.net.

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