Northwest male high school athlete of the year: Johnny O'Shea, Palatine
What Palatine senior Johnny O'Shea achieved over his last few seasons of high school sports probably has no equal.
In his senior year, he achieved at the highest of levels in all three of the sports in which competed -- football, basketball and volleyball. In each sport, O'Shea earned a spot on the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area teams, a grouping reserved for the best of the best among Mid-Suburban League schools plus St. Viator, Maine West, Leyden and Christian Liberty Academy.
O'Shea is not the first competitor to earn spots on three all-area teams in the same school year, but he's the first -- at least as far as we can tell -- to have done it two years in a row. And even before that spurt, he also excelled as a sophomore on high-achieving varsity teams at Palatine.
For performing at such an elite and sustained pace, O'Shea has been selected as the Daily Herald's Northwest male high school sports athlete of the year.
It was impossible to miss O'Shea on the football field, a wideout who was a terror to opposing defenses thanks to great size (6 feet, 3 inches), speed and a pair of hands that grabbed anything thrown close to him.
He was a key to the 2015-16 MSL West co-champion team that finished 10-3 as well as the 12-1 outright MSL West champion team in the 2016-17 season. And as a senior, he led the West runner-up squad that finished 7-4.
O'Shea exits as the top receiver in Palatine football history. Although the Pirates fell in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs to Edwardsville last fall, O'Shea did everything in his power to extend the season.
In that game, he came up with his best prep football performance in a 38-35 loss. O'Shea had a team-record 5 touchdown receptions, along with a 2-point conversion catch. The totals were 19 catches for 276 yards.
In his first year leading the program, coach Corey Olson didn't need convincing that someone very special had been on his roster.
"That is the way Johnny O'Shea is," Olson said. "And that is the way a last game should be. There will probably never be another Johnny O'Shea, because he is the whole package."
The end of football season marked a transition to basketball that O'Shea grew to embrace -- eventually.
"I'm not going to lie," O'Shea said. "At first, I guess in my sophomore year, that was hard. All I could think about was how fun it would be to have just a little bit of free time. But it got easier each time."
O'Shea says he had a special affinity for the basketball season and the Pirates teams coached by Eric Millstone. And that was reflected in Millstone's appreciation for him.
"To coach a kid like Johnny is a once-in-a-generation kind of thing," Millstone said. "His work ethic, his humility and the everyday example he set . . . I've never seen anything like it."
His size and shooting range made O'Shea a key on both ends of the court for Palatine. In his senior season, he averaged 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists and was the model of efficiency, finishing with a 55 percent shooting percentage.
In Millstone's program, there's also a clear priority on defense, and O'Shea was exemplary in all aspects.
"I don't remember ever having to correct him about something he'd done wrong," Millstone said. "Instead, he'd come over and before I could say anything, he'd be telling me what he'd done wrong, and what he'd do differently next time. Just remarkable."
The volleyball team, too, benefited from O'Shea's impact. The Pirates were runners-up in the MSL West this spring and were playing at an elite level at season's end as they won a regional and earned a spot in the Glenbrook South sectional.
O'Shea's aptitude was revealed by the diversity of his statistical impact. He used his size to lead the team in blocks and was a close second in kills -- and O'Shea also led the team in both digs and service aces.
He certainly left a big impression on volleyball coach Frank Stark.
"I have never met another competitor like this kid," Stark said. "I honestly use him as a role model for my own kids to look up to. He makes highlight reels every match. I know that no matter what he does in life, he's going to be successful."
What's next in O'Shea's life is a bit of streamlining. He'll leave behind his multi-tasking past for a future focused on playing wideout for the football team at Butler University.
That means this summer will be dedicated to one sport only -- a different kind of transition for him. He recounts a past pattern where he'd be out the door at 6 a.m. and back home around 8 p.m., with wall-to-wall practices and/or games for all three of his sports in between.
"I was lucky to have coaches who were lenient with my schedule -- they understood what I was trying to do, which really helped a lot," he said.
For the record, O'Shea says he had a ball navigating his busy athletic past, and leaves this as advice for anyone considering a similar path for themselves:
"Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way," O'Shea said. "People would ask me if I had any second thoughts about doing three sports, and the answer was always no. I will not regret any of it -- not a single second."
Millstone thinks Butler has one heck of an unusual athlete on their hands, and looks forward to seeing what O'Shea can accomplish there.
And he's encouraged that a three-sport standout like Johnny O'Shea can still find a way to thrive, representing his community with such broad distinction.
"To me," said Millstone, "he's what high school sports is all about."