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Amherst-Bowdoin clash a family affair for the O’Malleys

Amherst senior Jake O’Malley (left) now has brother Brian (right), a freshman, on his side. On Saturday, they face their other brother, Sean, a senior with Bowdoin.

photo courtesy of amherst college

Amherst senior Jake O’Malley (left) now has brother Brian (right), a freshman, on his side. On Saturday, they face their other brother, Sean, a senior with Bowdoin.

The entire scene, Sue O’Malley concedes 10 months later, was a bit overwhelming, and certainly a reality check.

Her three sons, seemingly indestructible, never suffering more than a scratch in hundreds of games, from youth sports to college, were grounded. All three were healing their wounds on a pair of beds and a couch in the family room of their Medfield home.

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The eldest, Sean, was at the start of a long rehab process after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the annual Black & White scrimmage at Bowdoin, his senior season as a captain derailed before it even started.

Jake, frankly, was in agony. A first team all-conference receiver at Amherst, he had suffered a lacerated kidney, the result of an inadvertent knee to the back from a Williams defender while he was making a cut block in the Biggest Little Game in America last November.

And the youngest, Brian, the Independent School League MVP at St. Sebastian’s, was dealing with a fractured ankle suffered in the NEPSAC Bowl, a 40-7 win over The King School that had capped a perfect 9-0 season.

“None of us really had been hurt in our lives,” said Jake, who, after a quick postgame visit to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, was rushed to the trauma unit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, where he recalls looking up in the operating room and seeing 15 doctors and nurses in white coats.

“Three big, strong kids, and none of us could move,” before adding with a quip, “Brian was an afterthought, Sean and I had major issues. He waited on us.”

“It put things into perspective,” said his mother. “They were buddies, and they took care of each other.”

And that is why their family reunion Saturday afternoon in Amherst, for the 91st clash between the host Lord Jeffs and Bowdoin, will carry such significance, and raw emotion for the O’Malley clan.

Three brothers, separated by four years, suiting up for a game on the same field, for the first and likely last time in their lives.

Jake, who lost 50 pounds on his 6-foot-3-inch frame while spending a month in that bed in the living room — along with an additional five-day visit to Children’s Hospital to deal with an infection — will start at receiver for the Lord Jeffs. He made a healthy return, at 197 pounds, last week at Hamilton, with three catches for 32 yards in a 23-7 win.

Sean, a rugged 6-foot, 205-pound hybrid (H-back/tight end/fullback) for the Polar Bears, will also step onto the shiny new turf at the renovated Pratt Field complex. Less than a year removed from his surgery, he was back on the field last week for three plays in a 27-5 defeat to Middlebury in Brunswick.

On the Amherst sideline? Brian, a 6-4 freshman wideout of great promise.

And in the crowd, spending equal time on both sides, will be their proud parents: Bill, a football/basketball captain at Amherst (Class of 1984) and Sue, a field hockey/lacrosse captain at Bowdoin (’85); sister Caitlin, a four-year soccer player at Amherst (’11); and a collection of family and friends that will number close to 50. Rooms at the Lord Jeffery Inn were booked months ago.

“It will be emotional, I’m really excited to see the guys together,” said Bill O’Malley, a stellar safety for legendary coach Jim Ostendarp.

“Sean, after last year, probably loves football more than anybody. He can’t wait to see his brothers.”

Which his 23-year-old son, a sociology major, confirmed.

“This is always a big game for the family,” said Sean. This year, however, is special.

“We started talking about it last Christmas, and then again July 4th.”

Sean and Jake played together at St. Seb’s for coach Bob Souza. And Jake and Brian teamed up for the Arrows, too.

On Saturday, the eldest and the youngest may square off, on special teams, for the first time officially.

“My brothers have taught me everything I know,” said Brian, who has not cracked the receiver rotation yet for the Lord Jeffs, but coach E.J. Mills believes that eventually he will be the best receiver of the trio.

“How did I end up with three wideouts?” asked Bill O’Malley with a chuckle. “It all changed when St. Seb’s went to the spread offense.”

And their memorable matchups in the front yard — mostly tackle — initially Bill and Brian vs. Sean and Jake before the rest of the kids in the neighborhood gravitated to the worn sod, only furthered their competitiveness, and development.

“I was always on Sean’s team, I held my own . . . but if I got tackled, it would not end well,” confirmed Brian, who chose football (and lacrosse) at Amherst over, yes, Bowdoin.

His boys have left the homestead, but Bill can still see all three out front, the balls, and sticks, and hockey goals scattered across the lawn.

“This game is the culmination for my brothers, and I, and our careers, and playing in the yard . . . it will be emotional,” said Jake.

All three on the same field, emphasized Mills, “is special,” recalling how Brian, as an eighth-grader, tagged along with Jake to a summer football camp on campus.

“For Jake and Sean, this is their last run through the NESCAC,” said the 17-year head coach, calling the former a “great player, he runs great routes, he’s a very physical blocker, and he catches the ball late with his hands, he is hard to guard. And Sean plays receiver with the mentality of a linebacker.”

Sean acknowledges that his two brothers have more height and speed, “but I am definitely stronger,” a point they will not argue. “And we have all found what fits best.”

That applies to their school of choice, as well as their positions on the field.

“They all hope they will win, but there is a bigger picture,” reasoned their father. “All three are going to great schools, they love football, and they love competing, but they are getting a great education. It’s pretty cool, the beauty of Division 3.”

Sue O’Malley said the ordeal last November was a “wonderful lesson for all. Their health is the most important thing.

“Games are always so nerve-racking — who won, what kind of numbers did they have . . . now, it’s just play your best, as long as you come out healthy.”

“If everyone walks off the field under their own power, our parents will be happy,” concluded Jake.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.
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