Regardless of the sport, or the mode of competition, the O’Leary brothers always want to win.
The three sons of nine-year Governor’s Academy coach Jim O’Leary grew up in Amesbury at the epicenter of neighborhood football, hockey, and basketball pickup games.
But for middle brother Shane, the best competition involved a simple three-man football drill in which he and his older brother, Brett, and younger brother, Peyton, took turns at quarterback, cornerback, and wide receiver.
“It pushed us to try and beat the guy that you’re up against,” Shane said of the sibling rivalry.
“Having two brothers, and being the middle, they definitely pushed me to be the best I could be all the time. Playing ISL [Independent School League] football is obviously a lot different, but when I lined up against someone I’d pretend that it’s my big brother, and I’m not going to let him beat me.”
Shane, 18, played cornerback on the Govs varsity team his freshman and sophomore seasons after transferring from Newton’s Fessenden School and re-classifying. After two years of standout play, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder took over as the starting quarterback, passing for over 800 yards with five touchdowns and five rushing TDs in 2018.
His favorite target? Little brother Peyton, who at 6-foot-3-inch, 175 pounds, doesn’t give an inch to his older siblings.
“I always say I’m the best athlete,” said Peyton. “[Shane and Brett] say the same thing about themselves. Obviously we want to compete with each other. It’s a little joke between us three saying I’m better than you at this or that.”
Like Shane, Peyton, 17, transferred from Fessenden school to Govs and re-classified, but missed his freshman season with a broken leg.
As a sophomore, he caught 15 passes from his brother for 340 yards and three touchdowns, but suffered more bad luck with a separated shoulder on the first drive this season on Sept. 21 in a 13-7 win at St. Sebastian’s. Peyton is rehabbing the injury and hopes to return for Govs’ final two games.
Thanks to contributions from Zach Clough (Newbury), Gardner Cousins (Newburyport), and Jack Julian (Manchester) — who switched from soccer to football this fall and is leading Govs in receiving — Shane (366 passing yards, 323 rushing yards, eight combined touchdowns) has kept Govs tied atop the ISL-6 standings with Belmont Hill and Milton Academy. A huge home game looms Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) against Milton.
Right now, Shane’s singular focus is leading Govs (4-0) to its first ISL title since 2014, but the all-around athlete is also a captain of the hockey and lacrosse teams, and is committed to play lacrosse at UMass Amherst.
Brett, now a junior at Providence College, was also a three-sport captain (football, basketball, and baseball) at Govs and Peyton is also a three-sport standout, with college prospects to consider in basketball and lacrosse as well as football.
Looking back, Brett sees Shane’s versatility as a key factor in the race for most athletic brother.
“I gotta give it to Shane,” Brett said. “He can pick up any type of ball and be good at it. I remember he would have a doubleheader in hockey, then drive an hour and score 30 points in his basketball games.”
“Peyton is good at his distinct sports, but Shane is a little more mentally tough and humble. He does it with his actions.”
For the elder O’Leary, coaching his sons in multiple sports throughout their youth was a key factor in their athletic growth.
“Being involved in athletics my whole life, my influence on my boys is to try multiple sports,” said O’Leary, who played quarterback at Salem High under coach Ken Perrone and held the career rushing record for a quarterback at Northeastern when he graduated in 1984.
“So many kids specialize, but I’m a firm believer that you learn different skills in different sports. That type of thing is changing, but [my sons] are able to excel in multiple disciplines.”
While he encouraged them to find their sport, O’Leary clearly had designs for his sons to play football; he named them after former NFL quarterbacks Brett (Favre), Shane (Matthews), and Peyton (Manning).
When Shane found Peyton on a post pattern for a touchdown on the first drive of their first varsity game together last season at Brooks, their father brimmed with pride.
But as their coach, O’Leary made sure to never give his sons preferential treatment.
“You learn some things over the years from coaching your boys,” said O’Leary. “I seem to be a bit harder on them and sometimes I think back and I’m not sure if that’s fair, but that seems to be my strategy.”
“Luckily for me, my boys are athletic and they earned their positions. They want to be the best they can be and that’s one of the things I bring out in the players, and why I’m demanding of all of them.”
Having a coach and former quarterback under the same roof certainly helped Shane learn the nuances of the position last year. While his coach is critical of him during team film sessions, Shane asserts his father is even more critical in private film sessions at home.
O’Leary’s perfectionist attitude allowed him to secure four consecutive ISL titles for the Govs after taking over as head coach in 2011, and raise three sons who are not only seeking to play sports the right way, but set the right example for each other as sportsmen.
“It was nice having an older brother as a role model,” said Shane. “Now I have to be [Peyton’s] role model. He’s the youngest and he likes to run his mouth, so I try to show him how to keep your head down and lead by example.”
“The only thing I want right now is an ISL championship and hopefully we get past Milton, get Peyton back, and take it from there. Nothing would make my family happier than if we get this done.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.