School: Council Rock South
Football, Basketball, Baseball
Favorite athlete: Lebron James
Favorite team: Phillies
Favorite memory competing in sports: Throwing a one-hitter to advance to the State Title Game
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When the ambulance tried putting me in a neck brace for a broken leg during a football game
Music on your iPod: Hip-Hop/ Country
Future plans: Attend Rider University, play baseball there and see what happens
Words to live by: “You Only Live Once”
One goal before turning 30: See the Eagles win the Super Bowl
One thing people don’t know about me: I have competed in a chess tournament
When you’re as competitive an athlete as Brian Donnelly, you hear the talk.
As Donnelly prepared for his senior season on the football field and the daunting task of trying to fill the enormous shoes left with the graduation of three-year starting quarterback Billy Fleming, he heard the comments that there was no way Council Rock South could continue to be so successful without Fleming.
The comments weren’t necessarily an indictment of Donnelly. But he took them that way. And used them to his advantage.
“I loved it,” Donnelly said. “I wasn’t expected to do some of the things I did this season. I’ve always been a pretty good football player, but I’ve never had a season like I had this year. I really fed off of the negative comments that were directed toward me. I took it as a challenge.
“They said I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t get the team back because Fleming was gone. That’s the kind of thing I love to hear. I’m not one to accept that kind of stuff. I’m too competitive to let that go.”
But he needed to use that as motivation, rather than to mount a personal campaign to prove himself.
“I took it as an insult,” he said, “but I couldn’t go out onto the field and try to do too much. I had to stay within what I could do to help the team. The coaches did a great job of preaching that even though the focus might be on me, it can’t be about me. The focus had to be on the team. That’s probably the best thing I learned in my four years in high school.”
“High-level athletes are going to have that inner competition,” said South football coach Vince Bedesem, “I knew, and our coaches knew, he was going to want to prove to everybody that this season was not going to be a down one just because Fleming is no longer here. So sure, he had a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. But he put it in the right place and was able to feed off of that.”
It took just one play from scrimmage before Donnelly began to silence the critics … and let the league know that Council Rock South was going to remain a league power. After receiving a long runback on the opening kickoff, Donnelly ran the ball in for a touchdown from 35 yards out on the first play from scrimmage of the season-opener against Central Bucks South. By the time the smoke had cleared and the final gun had sounded, the Golden Hawks had posted a 42-20 victory and Donnelly had amassed 174 yards on 17 carries with four touchdowns.
“After that first touchdown, our offense came off the field and we were like, ‘Wow this is going to be a fun season,’” he said. “And we were playing a very good C.B. South team. When you can do something like that, that just completely jump-started us and gave everyone the confidence we needed to go far.”
And go far the Hawks did. All the way to the PIAA District One Class AAAA Championship game. The Hawks claimed a share of the National Conference title with their 6-1 league record and went 12-2 overall. Donnelly completed 18 passes for 308 yards, and put up astonishing numbers on the ground. He led the conference with 1,521 yards on 204 carries (an average of 7.5 yards per carry) and 23 touchdowns.
“Brian did a tremendous job running our offense,” Bedesem said. “When he came on, especially in the beginning, he was very humble. He kept his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut, and he went to work. And when he got acclimated to football again (after a summer of playing baseball), he started to become more of a vocal leader again. We were a few steps away from making the state final and a lot of it was due in part to Brian Donnelly.”
“We got walked-off on last year (in the state quarterfinals) against a very good Spring-Ford team, and that left a sour taste in our mouths,” Donnelly said. “All the guys from last year remembered that. That’s what really drove us and motivated us to put in the time and care to get back and get past that this season.”
This season, the Hawks rolled to a National Conference title and a chance to play for both the District One and PIAA State championship games.
While Donnelly’s abilities on the mound were certainly a large part of that success, the senior standout quickly redirects any praise to the guys who support him in the field and at the plate.
“The best part of our team was that no one really cared that much about individual goals,” he said. “We were a bunch of individuals coming together and playing as a team. I didn’t set any goals for myself except to help my team in any way that I could.
“It makes it a lot easier for me when you know there are guys behind you who are going to help you out. That was a huge key to our team. If one guy made a mistake, there would be eight others to pick them up.”
Highlighting his stellar senior season, Donnelly tossed a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Altoona in the PIAA State Semifinals … following up a two-hitter in the quarterfinals.
“One of the things I love about sports is having the spotlight on you and being able to come through, not for yourself, but for your teammates,” said Donnelly, who credited much of his success throughout the years to his catcher, Dan Callahan, who has been catching him since the two were 6 years old. “We worked way too hard all year to let a bad pitching performance do us in.
“I was out there thinking about the team. They were there for me all year, they were backing me up, making great plays for me all year. They deserved an effort like that. They were saving me in that game left and right, too.”
The Hawks fell, 3-1, to La Salle in the PIAA State Championship game. And while the team was unable to achieve its ultimate goal, Donnelly said it took nothing away from the thrill and the sheer fun of the Hawks’ season and amazing postseason run.
The Hawks were a true team in every sense of the word, with many of the players having played with – and against – each other from a very early age.
“We’re all such good friends,” Donnelly said. “We all played in Little League together and against each other. We would always talk when we were younger, we can’t wait for Holland and Northampton Little Leagues to combine for Council Rock South. That was always something we looked forward to.
“When the last out was recorded in the state championship game, a lot of tears were shed after that game, not so much because we lost, but because such an incredible run and such an incredible group of friends are going to separate.”
Donnelly - who also suited up for the Golden Hawks’ basketball team every season except his junior year - will be heading to Rider University in the fall. He plans on majoring in business administration and is looking to make a name for himself on the Rider baseball team, where he’ll likely play in the outfield.
And perhaps what is most exciting, he’ll have a chance to prove himself all over again.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to get on the field as soon as I get there,” he said. “I hate sitting and watching games. I’m going to work hard and try to make the most of any opportunity I get.
“I’m excited to be able to concentrate on baseball and on getting better every day. I’m a long way from being a good collegiate player. That is the exciting part about sports. If you work hard and put your minutes in, it’s going to show up and you will get better.
“I can’t wait. Up to now, these were the four biggest years of my life. The best part of this year ending is knowing that I have four years to still do some pretty big things.”
One thing is certain – Donnelly will be a tough act to follow.
“Brian had a tremendous career for CR South,” coach Greg Young said. “He has grown a lot as a player and carried us the entire season. He will do very well at Rider University the next four seasons.
“We’ve had better pitchers and better hitters, but Brian ranks right near the top when it comes to competitiveness and the will to win. He will be missed.”