The Brothers O’Malley

Last year they were nursing injuries in the family living room, one brother on the couch and two on rolled-in beds. This fall they were back to fighting it out on the field.

By Ben Badua

On a Saturday in late September, three O’Malleys arrived on Pratt Field. Jake O’Malley is a senior wide receiver on the Amherst football team. His younger brother, Brian, is a first-year wideout. Their older brother, Sean? He’s a wide receiver for Bowdoin, Amherst’s opponent that sunny afternoon.

The family rivalry is not limited to the three brothers. Their father is Bill O’Malley ’84, who played football and basketball for the Jeffs. Their sister, Caitlin ’11, donned the Purple & White for women’s soccer. Their mother, Sue, went to Bowdoin.

“We’re a pretty boring household,” says the patriarch. “The six of us have gone to a grand total of two schools.”

For Sean, Jake and Brian, the rivalry began on their front lawn in Medfield, Mass., where Sean and Jake played fierce games of wiffle ball, hockey and football with neighborhood friends. The problem: there were usually an odd number of 11- and 12-year-olds. The solution: draft 7-year-old Brian to even things out.

 “I remember playing against these huge kids, trying not to get hurt but usually ending up crying on the sidelines,” says Brian. “Sometimes I’d agitate Jake, but Sean was my protector. He’d save me from Jake’s wrath.”

Sean and Jake starred for St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass., finishing their senior seasons with 6-2 records. During Sean’s first year at Bowdoin his team suffered a 13-12 loss to Amherst. The next season Sean got a first crack at bragging rights against Jake, hauling in a team-high eight receptions for 64 yards. But the win ultimately went to the younger O’Malley; Amherst walked away with a lopsided 38-7 triumph. Wins the next two seasons made it three in a row for Amherst.

Jake O'Malley '14 and Brian O'Malley '17 standing on Pratt field

From left: Brian ’17 and Jake ’14. Photo by Rob Mattson

“It reminds me of the Mannings getting together,” says their father. “Peyton and Eli both want to win. They play hard, but at the end of the game you see them give each other a nice hug and you realize that family is a lot more important than wins and losses.”

Nonetheless, Jake has not let Sean forget that the wins have been slanted in Amherst’s favor. Jake was the Jeffs’ top receiver last year, catching a team-high 34 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Averaging 11.2 yards per reception, he was one of the league’s best pass catchers and nabbed a spot on the All Conference first-team.

But he’s not the family’s only star. Sean holds the Bowdoin record for longest offensive play from scrimmage. And Brian became the only O’Malley brother to go undefeated during his senior year at St. Sebastian’s.

The September on-field reunion almost didn’t happen. Sean tore his ACL in a preseason scrimmage in 2012, forcing him to sit out for a year. Jake suffered an equally devastating injury when he closed out last season against Williams: “When I first got cut blocked and kneed in the back, I thought I just got the wind knocked out of me,” Jake says. “I sat down and thought I’d catch my breath, but I didn’t. I knew something was wrong.”

He’d ruptured his kidney. Brian was the last to go down, breaking an ankle later that fall.  Soon the three were reunited in their parents’ living room, Sean and Jake in rolled-in beds and Brian on the couch. 

“These kids have played football forever and thankfully for the longest time no one’s gotten hurt,” says their father. “Then all of a sudden all three are on the shelf.”

The O’Malley family on the sidelines

The O’Malleys: Bill ’84 and Sue with daughter Caitlin ’11 and sons (from left) Jake ’14, Brian ’17 and Sean.

Eleven months later, the Saturday showdown on Pratt Field offered Sean a final shot at knocking off Amherst before his brothers could claim lifetime bragging rights. The three acknowledged one another with head nods during pre-game stretches. Their sister made the trip from New York to join their parents in the stands.

Which team did the family root for? “Seeing them out there, playing Division III football on a beautiful autumn day is all we care about,” says a diplomatic Bill. “The end of last year was tough, so having them healthy and having fun again means everything. Whenever Amherst and Bowdoin play, my wife and I secretly hope for a 40-40 tie and lots of O’Malleys in the endzone. To us, that would be the perfect outcome.”

To others, the actual outcome was even better: The final score was 27-11, Amherst. Jake had four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Sorry, Sean.

Badua covers sports for Amherst magazine.