He made an early name for himself by breaking some long runs, but what won the respect of teammates and opponents was the toughness he showed between the tackles.
Four years later, the toughness remains, but he's no longer the little guy who takes a beating anymore. Measured at 6-0, 220 at the University of Florida's football camp this weekend, O'Hara has the size and power to go with the speed and the toughness. He's now the man who hands out the punishment rather than the little guy who felt his whole body was one great big bruise the night after football games four years ago.
"I think I'm able to run with a lot more power now," said O'Hara after Saturday's final workouts at The Swamp where he was timed in 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash. "I'm 220 now and I think I'm a little faster than I was last year. I think I can run away from people but I know I can run over them, too."
While a lot of schools are projecting him as a safety, even possibly as a linebacker at the next level, running back is where he expects to play at the next level. At Dixie County, he will be an offensive specialist this year even though the Bears lost much of their offensive line among the 18 graduating seniors from last year's standout team.
"I asked my coach if I could play defense this year because I played safety early in my high school years, but my coach told me he doesn't want me playing defense," said O'Hara. "I thought I would make a pretty good defensive back for us and we lost a lot of good players last year, but he says I'm going to have to carry the ball more this year and he doesn't want me to get too tired playing defense.
"I'll do whatever the team needs me to do, though. If I can help the team win, I think people will give me a chance to play college football."
O'Hara lives with Maureen and Matt Cravey, teachers in Dixie County who will tell you that the soft spoken young man is their "gift from God."
"When he was in the seventh grade, Paul came home with one of our sons and he's been like another son to us ever since," said Maureen, a reading specialist. "I tell everyone that Paul O'Hara is a gift from God to our family and to our community. I wish everyone could see what a good, decent and caring young man he is. We love him so much and we're just so thrilled that he's going to get a chance to play college football."
Matt says that while it would be great if Paul chose to play at the University of Florida for his college career, what is important is that he goes somewhere that is going to help him get the best possible education.
"We'd love it if he's a Gator," said Matt. "We live in Old Town so it's only 45 minutes away from Gainesville, but what's most important is that Paul goes somewhere that they'll care about him for more than just football. Paul knows that there is going to be life after football, and where he goes needs to be the place that's going to prepare him best for the days when he's not playing anymore."
The phone rings off the hook on a nightly basis at the Cravey's home. It's a who's who of college football when they answer. All the big schools have called and have offered scholarships, but he's already put together a list of five schools that will get the most attention.
Playing time will factor in his decision, but more importantly, it's going somewhere that will give him a good education to go with the chance to play for a good team.
"Yeah, I want to go somewhere that I know we're going to win," he said, "and I definitely want to go somewhere that I'll get playing time, but I have to think about my education. I want to get a good education."
O'Hara is a good student who passed with ease the math section of the FCAT. Maureen Cravey says he is working hard to prepare for the ACT, but she is confident that he will do well so that qualifying to play for a Division I school will not be a problem.
"We work with him and he's got a good memory," she said. "He's already shown by doing so well on the math in the FCAT that he will do well with the ACT and the math is usually the stumbling block for kids. I think he will be well prepared and that he'll get a good score. We push Paul. He's a typical teenager in that if you leave it all up to him, he'll get distracted, so we keep him motivated and he responds well to that. He's a great kid. If he comes to the University of Florida, he's going to be a real blessing to everyone here."