by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
As LSU suffer injuries and transfers, one opt out or NFL Draft announcement after another, and a wheelhouse of staff changes, the Tigers also stare down major quarterback questions heading into the Texas Bowl vs Kansas State on January 4th.
Luckily, LSU possess someone on roster who knows a thing or two about leading a team through adversity and severe changes: first year Tigers quarterback Matt O'Dowd.
After joining the Tigers this past February, O'Dowd called LSU "the premier football team in the country", thanked Jake Peetz & Coach Orgeron for extending their offer, and grabbed a walk-on spot behind QBs Myles Brennan, TJ Finley, Max Johnson and Garrett Nussmeier.
The former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High QB enjoyed fantastic junior and sophomore seasons in Florida, leading the Eagles to consecutive district titles and the team's highest win total since 2007. However, pegged all the way down at LSU's 5th string slot, behind three quarterbacks who started multiple games during 2020, next to an elite freshman slinger, many didn't expect O'Dowd to catch any game time.
Yet only months later, following Finley's summer departure to Auburn, O'Dowd took over the Tigers' 4th quarterback spot; Still cast deep down LSU's roster, O'Dowd's chance to play any 2021 reps at LSU looked close to impossible.
Even when O'Dowd became our 3rd string QB following Myles Brennan's season-ending injury, the prospects of the young man playing still seemed unlikely.
But after LSU's regular season finale, when Max Johnson transferred to Texas A&M with a bowl game just around the corner, Matt's chances went from zero to knocking right on the door.
Now, as many wonder about freshman QB Garrett Nussmeier's availability, if fellow walk on Taivion Faulk could start, or perhaps WR Jontre Kirklin returns to his high school position at Lutcher, O'Dowd could become front and center....not only in the mix for playing time on national television during a postseason bowl game.....Matt O'Dowd is now in firm contention to lead the Tigers.
Going into the game without 1,000 yard-RB Ty Davis-Price (Draft), WRs Kayshon Boutte (injury), Deion Smith (transfer), Koy Moore (transfer) or Trey Palmer (transfer), as well as Neil Farrell Jr (Draft), Derek Stingley Jr (injury / Draft), Damone Clark (Draft) & Eli Ricks (transfer) on defense, O'Dowd's Tigers find themselves in dire straits.
However, in the context of life itself, LSU's current roster depletion is really nothing compared to the circumstances LSU's walk on hero had to navigate 2 years ago....
Upon his Spring arrival at LSU, no one placed significance on where O'Dowd came from, remaining unfazed when they read "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School" on his bio....but if they had seen the name Parkland, perhaps the lightbulb would've gone off.
Raised in Florida's Pompano Beach area, Matt played high school football first at St Thomas Aquinas before transferring to Stoneman Douglas under Head Coach Quentin Short, growing into the role of starting quarterback.
When he came to Parkland, he had one mission: to win a state title. Then, as he began to lead a community reeling in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, Matt's role for his adopted high school greatly expanded from transfer quarterback to hometown hero.
During a 6 minute span on Valentine's Day when Matt was a sophomore at St Thomas Aquinas, O'Dowd's future teammates, their school & the entire Parkland community had their lives changed forever just 25 miles away:
On February 14th 2018, as just above 3,000 Stoneman Douglas high schoolers sat in class, a student brought a gun inside the building.
During the next 6 agonizing minutes, shots rang out within the school as the shooter killed 17 students and faculty members, including Stoneman Douglas football's 37 year old Assistant Coach Aaron Feis.
Shot multiple times from behind as he shielded two students from the bullets himself, Coach Feis became an unforgettable hero.
Sadly, he wasn't alone:
Stoneman Douglas AD Chris Hixon was a victim as well, killed as he rushed to help students escape;
Junior ROTC member / Parkland student Peter Wang is remembered as another hero, shot and killed after he opened numerous doors to help students escape the random gunfire and carnage just behind. Wang was admitted to West Point, posthumously, an extremely rare honor.
In the months that followed, as the community and school began to gradually heal, the football team stuck together & rode through a tough, but spirited 5 win season that next fall.
Then, in the summer of 2019, when LSU's future QB Matt O'Dowd transferred from national powerhouse St Thomas Aquinas, Stoneman Douglas triumphed under their new quarterback.
Finishing at 8-2 during the 2019 season, enjoying their first 8 win campaign since 2007, O'Dowd also led the team through tumultuous off field distractions in the wake of the shootings.
While some hoped to capitalize off the tragedy for personal agendas, those who survived the second deadliest school shooting in American history merely tried to pick up the pieces; Doing his own part to help his teammates start a positive new chapter at Stoneman Douglas, O'Dowd's leadership on or off the field became a major factor in the football team's turnaround.
Finding their routine of practices, games and film study sessions to be collectively & individually therapeutic, Matt and his teammates discovered solace on the gridiron & within each other....just as Coach Feis would've wanted.
Leading from the front as a junior, O'Dowd tossed 1,396 yards, 15 passing TDs & earned Stoneman Douglas their 2nd consecutive district championship, beating regional powerhouses Coral Springs and Coral Glades.
Later that next February, when Miami Gardens hosted the Super Bowl, the NFL set up a special day for a school that had been through so much. Stoneman Douglas High's squad were invited to be stand-ins for the broadcast and refereeing crew at the Super Bowl LIV rehearsals, with O'Dowd under center.
It was a rare experience few receive, and one Matt gained confidence from: he was now driven & determined to play in a Super Bowl for real next time.
At the climax of Matt's 4 game pandemic-shortened senior year, the Parkland QB ended his career with an impressive 10-2 starting record, making him one of the most successful Stoneman Douglas quarterbacks in recent memory.
Matt wasn't the only Eagle to land at a major power five school:
Five other Eagles committed to Miami, teammates Michael McLaughlin, Nick Dobbs, Demetri Robinson, Jahrel Wilson and Jaydin Fernandez, showing the all around stunning rate of improvement during O'Dowd's tenure at Stoneman Douglas.
Talking about O'Dowd, Stoneman Douglas Head Coach Quentin Short was full of nothing but praise ahead of his commitment to LSU:
“He has great arm talent and is a very cerebral player,” Stoneman Douglas Head Coach Short told the media. “He’s a student of the game, and he has been given a great opportunity to continue his playing career at a great university.”
For O'Dowd, taking the walk-on route at LSU, instead of a scholarship at a variety of Florida schools, became a chance to start fresh and show the world what he can do on the biggest stage; With quarterback uncertainty ahead of the Texas Bowl in Houston on January 4th, Matt O'Dowd just might get another opportunity to help a squad in desperate search for a leader.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: To The O'Dowd family for allowing me to tell their story. Thank You Forever For Your Support & Trust!
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc