Cassidy O’Sullivan, whose lilting and heroic name sounds as if it belongs in Irish legend, has written himself into Cal Lutheran folklore.
The Kingsmen junior tailback has gained 854 yards in 202 carries this season, earning a prominent place in the school’s rushing annals.
O’Sullivan needs 146 yards in Cal Lutheran’s season finale against Redlands on Saturday to become only the second 1,000-yard rusher in school history. He had a career-high 168 yards two weeks ago versus Whittier but against Redlands (7-1) will be up against a run defense that allows an average of 115 yards.
In six of nine games this season, including the past four, O’Sullivan has rushed for more than 100 yards.
Not coincidentally, the Kingsmen (4-5) have won three in a row--over Whittier, Claremont-Mudd and Occidental--their longest winning streak in seven years.
In short, Cal Lutheran started the season as a team that passed and lost and is finishing it as one that runs and wins. Against Azusa Pacific in the season opener, Kingsmen quarterback Sheldon Ashkenazie attempted 45 passes and O’Sullivan carried only 10 times for 16 yards in a 21-19 loss.
Coach Joe Harper then turned to Adam Hacker, a strong-armed freshman, who passed for 114 yards against Cal State Hayward and for 256 yards against UC Santa Barbara. O’Sullivan first showed potential against Santa Barbara when he burst 58 yards for a touchdown.
“That was pretty much the turning point,” O’Sullivan said. “Once I hit that one hole, I just felt like every time I got the ball, it might be the exact same thing.”
O’Sullivan rushed for 132 yards in that game, starting a streak in which he rushed for more than 100 yards in six of seven games.
When Hacker was injured in the fifth game, against Sonoma State, O’Sullivan’s role became even more prominent. David Harris, Hacker’s replacement, directed a run-oriented attack and O’Sullivan responded with 137 and 134-yard performances against La Verne and Occidental.
And even with Hacker back in the lineup against Whittier, Cal Lutheran continued to count on the run.
The Kingsmen rushed for 178 yards, O’Sullivan accounting for all but 10 of the total in 26 carries. He also scored three touchdowns before being replaced early in the fourth quarter with Cal Lutheran ahead, 28-3.
Harper insists that his offensive game plan has not changed as the season has progressed. “We’re running the same offense,” Harper said. “We’re just doing it a little better.”
But O’Sullivan thinks otherwise. “All of a sudden, we started running the ball, and that’s OK with me,” he said.
Part of O’Sullivan’s success can be attributed to Cal Lutheran’s offensive line of T.J. Lawless, Victor Magdaleno, Ben McEnroe, Mike Pezonella and John Milam. “I think we have faith in the line to where they can make some holes and I have just been fortunate enough to be able to find them,” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan, who attended Big Bear High, is in fourth place on Cal Lutheran’s single-season rushing list, behind Hank Bauer (865 yards in 1974) in the No. 3 position. Bauer, a former NFL running back and special-teams player, also leads the list with 1,024 yards in 1975. Dave Regalado is second with 956 yards in 1966.
O’Sullivan is eighth on Cal Lutheran’s career rushing chart with 1,168 yards in 274 carries over three seasons. Bauer, who played for the Kingsmen from 1972-75, leads the list with 2,659 yards.
One record that O’Sullivan has broken this season hits close to home. With 202 carries, he has broken Gene Uebelhardt’s 1972 single-season mark of 185 rushes.
Uebelhardt, now the football coach at Royal High, the top-ranked team in the Southern Section Division II, has seen O’Sullivan play.
“He is much better than I was,” Uebelhardt said. “He’s quicker, he’s faster . . . I give him my congratulations.”
While O’Sullivan is certainly a leader on the offense, his efforts have not always been concentrated at tailback.
Last season, he played quarterback and wide receiver in addition to rushing the ball. He also was used as a punt and kick returner.
It was not until this season that he finally settled in at one position. And, of course, found himself entrenched in the Cal Lutheran record book.
CAL LUTHERAN SINGLE-SEASON RUSHING LEADERS
Player Att Yds Avg. TD Yr Hank Bauer 178 1,024 5.8 14 ’75 Dave Regalado 160 956 5.8 11 ’66 Hank Bauer 169 865 5.1 17 ’74 Cass. O’Sullivan 202 854 4.2 9 ’91 Joe Stouch 167 838 5.1 4 ’68 Dave Regalado 159 748 4.7 10 ’65 Bruce Nelson 165 732 4.4 8 ’68 Steve Ruiz 145 729 5.0 13 ’71 Garland Evans 107 661 6.2 8 ’75 G. Uebelhardt 185 655 3.5 3 ’72