DOVER — The goal for most wide receivers is to avoid hits. But Derek O’Brien didn’t mind the ones he received last Saturday.

“I took a few,” said the St. Thomas Aquinas senior. “They felt great.”

As the second-seeded Saints (9-1) prepare for Saturday’s Division II semifinal game against No. 3 Alvirne (8-2), they have a major asset back in O’Brien, who was feared lost for the season after breaking his collarbone against Sanborn in Week 3.

At the time, he was emerging as quarterback Shawn DeKorne’s favorite target among a group of good targets, having grabbed 16 passes for 261 yards. He was also starting in the defensive backfield.

But in a game the Saints would win handily (32-9) he was tackled from behind on a crossing route, landed awkwardly and cleanly fractured his clavicle.

“It was a pretty bad break,” said STA coach Ryan Brown. “I saw the X-ray. It was clean. I honestly didn’t think we’d see him again. I thought he was done.”

“He was just destroyed,” said his father, Dave. “His mother and I felt so bad for him because of the year he was having.”

Out for the season, right?


“I had one (doctor) tell me I was out for the rest of the season,” said O’Brien. “But I had another tell me if I got surgery I could be back in 6-to-8 weeks. That’s what I was holding out for.”

Determined to rejoin the team before its season was done, he stayed involved at practice, helping coach the cornerbacks and wide receivers while he waited for the break to heal.

“There was no real rehab that I could do,” said O’Brien, who last year suffered a broken leg in a snowboarding accident. “All I could do was wait. That was difficult.”

He was medically cleared to begin working out two weeks ago and, last week, got the thumbs up to play in the quarterfinal game against No. 7 John Stark. He ended up catching five passes for 108 yards, including a long touchdown, in the 37-14 win.

His teammates were glad to see him back.

“It’s huge,” said senior linebacker Nick Tosatti, who missed most of last season with a fractured bone in his back. “Derek’s obviously a fantastic player. He had phenomenal numbers the first two games.

“I felt so bad for him. I know how it feels to not be able to play.”

His tools can be used on both sides of the line on Saturday against what could be a pretty formidable opponent.

The Broncos, fresh off the first playoff win in program history, come in averaging 32.3 points a game and were a handful in the teams’ meeting in Week 2, battling back from an early two-score deficit before losing, 26-22.

“On defense, he gives us another option,” said Brown. “He’s a smart kid; he understands coverages. It’s great having another kid out there you can trust.”

On offense, O'Brien becomes another weapon in DeKorne’s arsenal. After Saturday’s win, his 21 receptions for 369 yards rank fourth behind Wll MacLean (52-892), Edwin Estevez (54-674) and Jack Benelli (39-477). He’s also dangerous returning kickoffs.

“He didn’t skip a beat,” said Tosatti. “He jumped right in where he left off and that’s great for the team.”

There seems to be a couple potential paths to victory for the Saints in this one, which will be played at 3:30 p.m. at Portsmouth High School. One is to limit mistakes, win the turnover battle and do enough in all phases. The other is to ride the right arm of DeKorne (66 percent completions, 2,727 yards, 29 TDs, seven INTs) and simply score more points.

Either way, the Saints think they have a great chance to get back to a championship game for the first time since 2015.

“It feels different. Everyone has a lot more confidence this year,” said O’Brien. “We have a bunch of playmakers on offense and defense. The line’s been doing great and Shawn’s making some great throws.

“It’s great to be back.”