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BROOKFIELD - He's got the body and the speed of a defensive end but when Conor Sheehy lines up at the defensive tackle position, all bets are off.
"Playing defensive tackle allows me to have more mobility and freedom," said Sheehy. "They said on the edge you have more freedom, but you don't have to worry about containment in the middle and I can crash down a little bit harder and be more physical on the inside.
"I've always wanted to beat the guy across from me. My motivation is always to beat that guy."
Sheehy's speed is a weapon, especially when you combine it with his 6-5, 265-pound frame. In last Friday's 24-0 loss to Brookfield Central, Sheehy was a one-man wrecking crew from his central position, registering 3.5 sacks and was a constant presence in the backfield.
The game tape wasn't fun for Hilltoppers coach Jeffery Mazurczak to watch, but spoke to the high level that his star player plays with no matter the situation.
"Quite a few of things he did put us in position to get those three-and-outs in the first half," said Mazurczak. "He's definitely a bright spot but at the same time, he's only a junior. He still makes a few mistakes, but what's great about him is he loves to sit down, watch film and really learn on how to get better. That's what is going to make him a success because he has that drive inside to really improve."
In addition to his work on defense, Sheehy gets rotated in at guard for a Hilltoppers offense that is still trying to find its rhythm. That meant going one-on-one against Brookfield Central senior and fellow Wisconsin commit Chikwe Obasih on a number of series.
"It's a different speed going against him," said Sheehy. "He's very fast and you have to keep your eyes on his center. It's great competition and I definitely love competition … You have to have speed when you get to the higher level, so I just try to play as hard as I can and play for the guy next to me. It's not about making a highlight tape or playing college ball when I am out there. It's about this team."
Sheehy was named a captain prior to this season – a rarity at Milwaukee Marquette – and his leadership has been put the test throughout this week. With the shutout loss to the Lancers, the Hilltoppers fell to 1-3 and have been held to three points or less in half of their games.
"We just have to sharpen it up," said Sheehy. "The margin of victory is very small in these types of games. (Friday) we drove down the field, but we didn't finish. We put up some nice defensive series and then we let in a touchdown on a 60-yard run. They're very little things that we need to fix."
One thing Sheehy doesn't need to worry about anymore is college. Entering the summer, Sheehy was candid in the fact that he had no idea he would be able to play college football. That changed over the summer when Sheehy was given a scholarship from Wisconsin shortly after the Badgers high school summer camp and continued with an offer from Michigan and interest from Michigan State, Notre Dame and Northwestern.
According to Mazurczak, Sheehy is still receiving mail from Michigan and has gotten some interest from Ohio State, but his commitment to the Badgers earlier this month has been a huge relief.
"It's a big weight off my shoulders to have the commitment done," said Sheehy. "I can definitely focus on high school football a lot better and my teammates. It's nice to keep my mind off college."
Analysis: For a guy going up against big offensive linemen, Sheehy does a good job finding where the football is and making a play. In one-on-one situations, Sheehy's sheer upper-body strength is unmatched by his competitors.
The biggest area of critique I give Sheehy is his work against the double teams on the pass rush. On more than one occasion, Sheehy was stymied by multiple blockers. That will come with time as he puts on more strength in his lower body. Sheehy said he is going to let his body naturally grow instead of forcing on the weight. I think when it's all said and done that he'll put on another 30 pounds and still retain his quickness and strength.
"As good of a player he is, he is still young and makes mistakes, so he has a lot of room to improve," said Mazurczak. "One thing you can't take away from him is he has that motor. He's always running really hot. He's quick, intelligent and always comes back from the sideline with information that helps us."
For a junior, Sheehy is an impressive player and as he transfers ‘weight-room strength' into ‘football strength,' he'll be a really special player.