After Colin O’Brien helped the 2012 Oak Park and River Forest High School baseball team win the Class 4A state title, he thought his days of competing against the best of the best were over.
Instead, he became one of the greatest dodgeball players the sport has ever seen at the collegiate level and now plays on a semi-professional team based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“I didn’t really know where this was going to take me when I signed up for it my freshman year of college,” said O’Brien. “It’s something I am very passionate about now, and I want to keep helping the sport grow.”
During his time in the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association, O’Brien was a four-time NCDA All-American and was the 2017 NCDA player of the year at Michigan State University.
He was a three-time Elite Dodgeball all-star which, according to O’Brien, is a member organization of USA Dodgeball that organizes tournaments for the best dodgeball players in the country.
To add to his milestones, O’Brien was named the second-best college dodgeball player of the decade by the NCDA on Jan. 29.
“It’s kind of funny, because after I started racking up some accolades, I would tell people I play dodgeball and they didn’t make much of it,” said O’Brien. “But my friends would come in and say, ‘No, you don’t get it. He’s really good! He’s an all-American!’ I don’t flaunt it, but my friends do which is funny.”
At the beginning of his freshman year at MSU, O’Brien and other incoming students were told to check out a fair showcasing all of the clubs and organizations on campus. He was interested in joining the club baseball team, but he noticed that the dodgeball team was going to hold tryouts.
Having won the dodgeball tournament at Huskiepalooza when he attended OPRF, O’Brien was intrigued by the possibility of joining MSU’s team.
“At that first practice, I immediately fell in love with the sport,” said O’Brien. “There was this technique [the team] was using called ‘pinch,’ where you put your fingers into the ball and it lets you throw the ball faster and with a curve. They were throwing 60-70 miles per hour that practice, and I knew right there I wanted to learn to do that.”
O’Brien’s transition to dodgeball was a natural one. When he played baseball in high school, he threw at a three-quarter arm slot, the same as what he uses for dodgeball. He also possesses a “rubber arm” which made him a valuable asset for both baseball and dodgeball due to his durability.
“For dodgeball, it is definitely more extreme because you are throwing so hard every time,” said O’Brien. “I wouldn’t feel pain or soreness after tournaments, but the following Tuesday at practice, I would be like, ‘I am gassed.’ Now, I know that my arm only has so many full blast throws in it, so I try to do more to take care of my arm than I did in high school or college.”
After being voted as the second-best college dodgeball player of the decade, the NCDA’s website described O’Brien as having an “extremely accurate arm, amazing catching [ability], and second-to-none survivability are what made him such a well-respected player in the NCDA.”
One of his best moments came during his current team’s second run at a national championship. Participating in a double-elimination format, O’Brien’s team had already lost a game. To make matters worse, O’Brien was facing a one-on-three situation. If he escaped the mismatch, his team would move on to the championship round.
“I just thought, ‘Alright, they are going to do a team throw at me, and I just have to make one catch,'” said O’Brien.
He did, and one of his teammates came back in and helped knock out the rest of the opposing squad to avoid being eliminated. He said it was a comparable moment to the diving play he made at third base during the 2012 state title game for OPRF to save Lyons Township High School from getting a runner in scoring position.
“Those two plays were definitely the standouts for me in a championship setting, and honestly, they rank pretty high for other personal moments as well,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien, who now works as a consumer insights analyst at the global market research firm Mintel, was asked about his dodgeball career during his job interview.
“I put it on my resume because it’s so different,” said O’Brien. “At my current job, I did the whole interview and then my now-boss said, ‘I have to ask … what is this dodgeball thing about?’ Because I am so passionate about it, they saw it and were intrigued by it and ended up checking it out. It was a good thing for me to be remembered by when I was applying for jobs.”
O’Brien, now 26 years old, is also trying to give back to the sport and is a part of the USA Dodgeball committee. He helps run tournaments and works with a group that helps make dodgeball’s presence known in the world of sports.
However, even though there is less time for him on the administrative side, O’Brien plans to keep competing for the foreseeable future.
“As I am getting older there’s only so much time I can put into this,” said O’Brien. “But I want to keep playing for as long as I can. There are people who are doing this in their thirties, some in their forties, and a handful who are older than that who are still competing. On my team now, we are going to keep doing this until our bodies or families don’t let us.”