Kirby O'Meara

Sitting on the bench was not an option for one Georgetown native determined to play Division I football

These days, Kirby O’Meara suits up in a sleek black suit and tie to go to work. But not long ago, the December 2013 college graduate suited up in well-worn football pads. His face breaks into a wide grin as he looks at the 2012 Southland Conference Championship ring he sports. He’s proud of that ring, as well as of the two at home—trophies from the 2009 Mountain West Conference Championship and the 2010 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Not too shabby for a Georgetown native who spent most of his high school football career on the sidelines.

Kirby says that the biggest lesson he’s learned—the lesson that got him through the bumps, bruises, and blisters of college football—came from a coach at TCU who said, “You either get better or worse; you never stay the same.”

Those words “stuck with me,” Kirby says. “I always wanted to be the person who was working harder than everyone else.”

Rough Start

As a child, Kirby loved playing football. However, his lack of speed and skill left him sitting on the bench as a high school freshman player. “I can’t tell you how many times his mother, sister, and I just sat there and watched as time ran out in those games, and he had not made it into the game,” his dad, Mike, recalls.

Kirby would not be discouraged from his dream of playing football, however. To help his son reach his dream, Mike hired a trainer. The workouts sharpened Kirby’s physique and confidence. In the gym, he fought to keep his heart rate in the desired cardio zone. Training included lifting weights, running laps, jumping rope, and tossing a heavy, weighted ball. Kirby tracked changes in his body fat percentage weekly. He wanted to put his freshman year as a self-described “slow and chubby kid” behind him. He improved physically, but come sophomore year, he still wasn’t able to play starting center, the position he wanted.

That year, his coach suggested that Kirby try field goal snapping, a position that requires less speed than others but requires precision. “To be a great long snapper, you must have perfect technique,” Kirby explains. Through frequent practices of the perfect snapping motion, Kirby refined his technique. But his improvement wasn’t enough. As a junior, he sat on the bench for most games.

Before his senior year began, Kirby attended a Snap Doctor clinic hosted by former college snapper Shane Hackney. During competition, he won first place and caught the eye of the camp director. “Hackney is a guy who made a big impact on me,” Kirby says. “At the end of the camp he told me, ‘You could do this in college.’ I had never heard anyone say that to me. He absolutely lit a fire under me.”

College Bound

Kirby’s powerful snaps earned him a starting position during his senior year, boosting his confidence. His dad helped him create a recruiting video that got the attention of coaches at Howard Payne. Kirby also visited Abilene Christian University, a Division II school at the time. The head coach there offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on, and in February he verbally committed. In the back of his mind, however, was the goal of playing at a Division I school. “I just wanted to play at the highest level that I possibly could,” Kirby says.

Kirby’s goal seemed to be within reach when, on a referral from Shane Hackney, Texas Christian University—a Division I school—offered Kirby a preferred walk-on position. He accepted, but too late to take part in the fall training camp. So he spent the season on the sidelines—a role reminiscent of his high school days. “It was hard not being able to go through training camp,” Kirby recalls. “That’s what builds the brotherhood and team aspect. Anyone who didn’t get to go through it [isn’t] quite viewed as part of the team.”

That season, TCU won the Mountain West Conference, earning the team a spot in the 2010 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Kirby suited up for the game and knew as he ran out of the tunnel with the team that his family was watching. But he didn’t play. “I just wanted to play, just like every other guy on the football team,” Kirby remembers. He knew that the fierce competition he’d face likely meant he wouldn’t play in the following season, either. Once again, he searched for a Division I team on which to play. This time, the University of Central Arkansas, another Division I school, called.

Faithful Finish

In his first season with the UCA Bears, Kirby found success. “It was finally my turn to be the starting long snapper,” Kirby explains. “I felt that I was snapping better than I ever had.”

However, during a spring exhibition game, a badly planted foot nearly cost Kirby his career. He snapped the ball and ran down field. As he turned around, his knee popped. Immediately, he knew the injury was serious. I’m done; that’s the end of my football career, he thought.

An MRI confirmed a tear to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an injury typically requiring months to heal. Kirby feared he’d be replaced on the team, but the UCA coaches stuck with him as he began rehabilitation. For two weeks, he wasn’t allowed to move his leg on his own. After surgery, he stretched his range of motion, rode an exercise bike, practiced stability work, and lifted weights. All the while, he iced his knee and prayed. “That was definitely one of the lower points in my life, because I felt helpless,” he recalls. “But the best thing is that it caused me to rely on God more than ever.”

Kirby quickly returned to his place on the field. The Bears’ 2011 playoff game against the University of Montana served as a testament of Kirby’s work ethic. The noise of the stadium in Montana was earth-shattering, and the temperature hovered near twenty degrees, but years of training helped Kirby persevere. He hit play after play with perfect snaps. “Those might have been nine of the best snaps from my entire career, and I did it in those conditions,” he says.

Kirby, who graduated from UCA with a double major in accounting and finance, now carries the determination and work ethic of the football field to the office. His rings remind him of just how far effort and grit can take those who work for their dreams.

In May, Kirby acquired another desirable ring when he wed his college sweetheart, Hannah Henderson. Three of his best friends—and former teammates—served as groomsmen.

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