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Timon’s O’Hara Takes Nothing for Granted

Photo by Andrew Miller

Matt Weiser says it came out of nowhere. Last October, the Bishop Timon-St. Jude head football coach was running his team through some fast-paced drills when he noticed something wasn’t right with then junior Ethan O’Hara.

O’Hara, a two-way starter at receiver and linebacker, was struggling to keep up. It was particularly curious for Ethan, a tireless worker who had been a Tiger captain since his freshman year. He was a leader, the kid the others followed.

“He just didn’t seem like himself,” Weiser said last week before practice at Mulroy Park. “He seemed a little behind and fatigued. I asked him and he goes, ‘Yeah, I don’t feel right. I feel off right now.’“

The Timon trainer told Weiser he had noticed the same thing. So they called James and Yasminda O’Hara, who brought their son to the doctor.

“His doctors wanted blood tests and X-rays and stuff like that,” James O’Hara recalled. “As soon as they got the result of his blood test the next day, my wife got the call. ‘Oh, we’ve got to rush him up to Children’s’.”

Ethan spent a week in the hospital undergoing tests. At first, the doctors feared the worst. But the tests ruled out leukemia. It turned out he was suffering from aplastic anemia, a rare condition that occurs when your bone marrow is unable to produce enough blood cells, leaving you prone to infections and bleeding.

“It was a scary experience,” said O’Hara, a four-sport athlete who is back with the football team after missing the second half of Timon’s championship season in 2022. “Of course, my parents sat with me throughout the whole process.”

Ethan needed a bone marrow transplant. The family members were all tested and his younger brother, Isaiah, now a freshman on the Timon football team, was a perfect match. The O’Haras also have a 20-year-old daughter, Belle.

O’Hara couldn’t return to school after his diagnosis. He stood on the sidelines, apart and wearing a mask to avoid being exposed by others, when the Tigers beat St. Mary’s in mid-November to win the Monsignor Martin B championship.

He went into Children’s before Christmas to get the bone marrow transplant. Isaiah gave his bone marrow in a procedure at Roswell. Ethan, who went through one round of chemotherapy before the transplant, spent the holidays in the hospital and got out on Jan. 12 — his father’s birthday.

“There were some tough times,” said James O’Hara, who had high praise for all the staff at Children’s. “But the doctors always told him to get up and move around. That’s what he did. He was working out in the hospital when he could.”

Ethan was still unable to return to school for classes, but he regained enough strength to compete in spring in track and field. Doctors said he could compete outdoors, where he could socially distance. O’Hara not only competed, he qualified for the state championships in the long jump and 110-meter hurdles.

“I just fought through it,” O’Hara said. “It was a lot of hard work. I have to thank my coaches and family, everyone around me, just supporting me, helping me get through these hard times. I’m just glad to be back out here.”

Weiser is glad to have him back, too. He said O’Hara, who was cleared to play football again a month ago and will be back in classes when school begins, will start at receiver. Ethan lost weight because of his illness, so he might not start at outside linebacker, splitting time at the season’s outset.

O’Hara has been a varsity starter and captain since his freshman year at. He’s also been a captain in track (indoor and outdoor) since ninth grade. At the time of his illness, he was the top man on the bowling team with a 202 average. He has bowled a 279 game. Ethan is also on the National Honor Society.

In short, O’Hara is a coach’s dream, the sort of player who inspires his teammates on the playing field and in the classroom.

“He’s not always going to be the one who’s the loudest or say the speech that gives you goose bumps,” said Weiser, a third-year head man who was a star tight end at UB. “He does everything you ask of him. He does the right things. He does the little things. He’s the prototypical lead by example guy.

“He was playing middle linebacker as a freshman at probably 120 pounds,” Weiser said. “Starting. And there were numerous times watching film where he was getting run over, but he was in the right place all the time.”

Photos by Andrew Miller

Weiser said O’Hara grew frustrated at times during his recovery, but he never felt sorry for himself or lost sight of the larger objective — the team. He said Ethan was constantly asking about the squad, putting his teammates first.

“I’m more of a silent type,” O’Hara said. “But you can still be a leader; you can lead by example. I’ll still go out there and tell some of my teammates what they did wrong, what they did right. I give them feedback. And just doing my own thing. Be sure the team succeeds in every way.

“I’m still trying to get to that 100 percent mark, still working on it,” he said. “Of course, it’s a really hard process, especially mentally.”

The Tigers won the Monsignor Martin B title last November and went 6-3, winning more than five games for the first time in eight years. Clarence Prude, who like O’Hara has started since his freshman year, wrote a letter about Ethan’s character and read it to his teammates before the title game.

“Seeing him go through that showed me that everything in life is not promised,” said Prude, whose 40-yard TD run put Timon ahead for good in the title game. “He showed his love and passion for the team. Even in those hard conditions, he was showing us, ‘I’m not done. I’ll be here for you and show you I’ve got y’all, even though I’m going through this pain’.”

Timon, which opens the 2023 season at home Friday night against Greece Olympia/Odyssey, returns 10 starters on both sides of the ball. This could be a truly special season, propelling the Tigers toward Weiser’s vision to one day return to the Monsignor Martin’s A division to compete with the big boys.

O’Hara said he’s simply thankful to be back on the football field. His head coach is grateful to have an experienced player and leader, one whose very presence reminds his teammates not to take their health and talent for granted.

“When we’re doing some of these sprints, guys might slow up and feel sorry for themselves,” Weiser said, “and Ethan’s out here running as hard as he possibly can. Sometimes, you don’t realize how good you have it until it’s taken away.”

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