by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page

There are lifeguards who don’t go around without a shirt as much as UB Bulls center James O’Hagan.

Before the game?  Check.

After the game?  Check.

If NCAA rules didn’t require a uniform, he’d probably try to play the game without a shirt and his #77 drawn on his chest and back.  With eye black.

The above picture was classic O’Hagan.  Following a game where the Bulls ran for 358 yards and 6 TD, the offensive line was asked to provide a representative for the postgame news conference.  O’Hagan, a team captain and star center, was the obvious choice.  But getting him to “dress up” for the event was not as easy.  Comb the stringy, long blond hair?  No way.  Take off the gameday eye black?  Absolutely not.  Put on a shirt?  No, but a winter coat was a compromise.

“My fellow offensive lineman were trying to clean me up a bit.  But O-Line’s dirty.  I feel dirty right now,” O’Hagan explained, with a smile on his face the whole time.

Center of Attention

Wearing a shirt, or not wearing one, doesn’t take away from what O’Hagan has done to help the Bulls to the best start in school history.  A four year starter, he hasn’t allowed a sack since his freshman year.  He is regularly the top graded college football center according to Pro Football Focus.  O’Hagan is an NFL prospect.  He has been a captain for two years.  But more than that, he is the heart and soul of the Bulls team.

Bulls Coach Lance Leipold  welcomes O’Hagan’s personality because of what he brings as a leader.

“You’ve got to try and let some personality come out.  You’ve got to love the game, but you’ve got to let some personality come out along the way.  James has given so much to this program.  I’m happy for guys like him.  If we were not in this position, he’d still be an awful special young man for what he’s done here. It’s great that everyone gets a chance to see a little of it,” says Leipold.

Leipold learned all about his center the first time he met O’Hagan, after Leipold took the job in late 2014.

“He walks into my office for the first time.  He’s one of those guys who doesn’t sit in the chair where it’s at, he pulls it up right next to your desk.  He says ‘Coach, what can I do to help this team?’  Those are the guys you need.  That passion from him hasn’t changed, it’s gotten stronger.”

Leadership Is A Snap

This past week, it was O’Hagan who enhanced a message from Leipold in a team meeting.

“Making sure we don’t lose focus on the process of daily improvement,” said O’Hagan, “That’s the biggest thing.  We have to take it day by day and not worry about big picture stuff.  One of my favorite quotes is ‘See a little, see a  lot.  See a lot, see nothing.’  Focus on the small stuff.  You don’t see a championship, you just worry about who you have to play,” said the senior from Long Island.

“A lot of times last year you saw us lose close games.  This year, the biggest difference is we’re finishing games.  We’re finding a way to win those tight games.

Shirtless in Ohio, Too

Two hours before the Bulls game against Miami on October 30, the team surrounds the UB logo as part of their pregame custom. The only player without a shirt? Center James O’Hagan.

The Bulls can clinch the MAC East division title with a win on Wednesday night against their rivals, Ohio. The early forecast calls for temperatures in the 20’s for the 7pm kickoff.  That shouldn’t have any impact on whether O’Hagan packs a shirt for the game.

“Ohio is always the biggest week. We haven’t won at Ohio since 2008, and that’s when we won a MAC title.  It’s huge. I always get fired up for Ohio week.  Last year, it was probably my favorite game I ever played in because bowl eligibility was riding on it.  I’m just extremely excited to play them.”

From 2-10 to 13-1?

O’Hagan was there in 2016, when a rebuilding Bulls went 2-10.  Now, he and UB are on the brink of a winning a division title, competing for a MAC Championship and playing in a bowl game.

“It’s been an honor to play here.  I just love this team.  I’ll never forget this team.  We’re brothers.  I love every single guy on this team. It’s been an honor to be their captain the last two years.”

Good news for James.  The MAC Championship game is indoors in Detroit’s Ford Field.  The bowl game could be at a warm weather site.

Shirts are optional.

Paul Peck

Paul Peck is sports broadcaster with over 25 years experience in TV and Radio. He served as sports anchor, reporter, and producer at WIVB for 24 years. In that role, he covered all four Buffalo Bills Super Bowls, the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Finals, the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the Daytona 500. He has been the Voice of the UB Bulls Football for 17 seasons, in addition to host of Bulls Athletics TV & Radio shows. Peck also served as the sideline reporter for the Buffalo Bills Football Network, host of the bowling show "Beat The Champ" and announces college basketball for ESPN 3 and Time Warner Cable Sports Channel. He has also been the Master of Ceremonies for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, one of the largest sports banquets in WNY.

Paul is also involved in the local business community, having been a financial advisor at AXA Advisors, and is currently the Vice President of Sports Development at VSP Graphics Group.

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