Last spring, in his junior season, Whitman midfielder Graham O'Brien had to make the transition from being the supporting player to being the primary scoring option with more responsibilities.
It was not an easy task.
In his sophomore season of 2001, when the Vikings made a surprise run to their first regional championship, O'Brien performed well as All-Met midfielder Andy Corno's sidekick. After playing sparingly as a freshman because of a broken wrist, O'Brien scored 56 goals as a sophomore, including one of the biggest in the Whitman program's short history.
Late in the 2001 Maryland 4A/3A West Region final, the Vikings trailed Sherwood by one. With six seconds left, however, O'Brien whipped the ball into the upper right corner of Sherwood's goal to send the game into overtime. In the extra session, the Vikings prevailed.
"That was pretty much the most clutch play I've ever seen," said Whitman senior Matt McDavid. "Especially considering he was a sophomore."
O'Brien's gaudy goal total that season put him among Montgomery County's scoring leaders, but some shrugged off his stats as inflated because of the presence of Corno. With Corno, who now plays for Georgetown University, drawing double teams and occupying the attention of each opponent's top defenseman the thinking went, O'Brien had much easier scoring opportunities.
"It did help that Andy was getting double-teamed and getting the best defender," O'Brien said. "But we were a young team except for Andy, so somebody had to step up. Once I started scoring I got more and more confidence."
O'Brien had a difficult time proving doubters wrong early last season after a knee injury forced him to miss the first three games, then slowed him for several more. But O'Brien, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, played through the pain. And despite the rapt attention of opposing defenses, O'Brien overcame his slow start to score 39 goals, hand out 11 assists and lead the Vikings to a division title and a berth in the 4A/3A West Region semifinals.
Count Walter Johnson Coach Jim Collin as one of the converted after he watched O'Brien scored three goals and record four assists in the Vikings' 10-3 victory over the Wildcats last year.
"His sophomore year he got a lot of the gravy from Corno, so I thought the verdict was out on him last year," said Collin. "But then he beat the heck out of us, so I had to conclude he's pretty legit. He's a great finisher. You give him the ball inside, and he's hard to stop."
This year, the Lehigh-bound O'Brien will serve as a team captain and spearhead Whitman's attack once again. For the Vikings to accomplish their goal of returning to the state final four, their offense will have to shoulder a large burden as their entire defense, including goalkeeper, is brand new thanks to graduation.
But with all six members of the first-line attack and first-line midfield returning, O'Brien will have help aplenty.
"He can create opportunities just by taking it to the goal," McDavid said. "He's not always looking to score because he can draw defenders to him, then pass it out."