FSU’s Nick O’Leary looks to make name for himself

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nick O’Leary always had the talent. It was about making the adjustment to the college game. And having the opportunities to shine.

The junior had a career game in Florida State’s 41-13 win over Pittsburgh to open the season on Labor Day. O’Leary had three touchdown catches — matching his entire 2012 total.

It was just the second time a Florida State tight end had three touchdown receptions in a game. Warren Hart had three TDs in a 1991 win over Tulane.

Frequently referenced during television broadcasts as a grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, O’Leary is trying to make a name for himself — and become a bigger part of the Florida State offense. One game into the 2013 season, he has shown that a connection has formed with quarterback Jameis Winston.

And O’Leary hopes that chemistry continues when No. 9 Florida State (1-0) plays host to Nevada (1-1) on Saturday afternoon.

“I knew I was going to be more a part of the offense this year being real good friends with Jameis,” O’Leary said. “We had a good relationship all camp, getting the ball to me.”

Tight end is the mismatch position in football. An athletic, physical player like O’Leary, at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, is too quick for a linebacker to cover and big enough to fight for the ball against a safety.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher felt like O’Leary had a chance to win some of those one-on-one battles against Pittsburgh.

“We liked that (matchup) and in certain situations we knew we could get Nick the ball,” Fisher said. “We called a lot of balls like that to him last year, and all of a sudden they’d double him and give us somebody else. It worked out (against Pittsburgh), and Jameis made the right reads and got the ball to the right people.

“When Nick gets one-on-one, he’s tough to handle.”

O’Leary said he has never had a three-touchdown game in his life, not even during a stellar career where he was a Scout.com five-star at Palm Beach’s Dwyer High. And it probably came as a surprise to just about everyone that a tight end at Florida State would nearly equal his career touchdown total in one game (O’Leary had four in his first two seasons).

He had a feeling that Fisher might call some plays that would get the ball to him. But not three times for touchdowns.

“We always run those plays in practice a lot,” O’Leary said. “I didn’t know he was going to call them that many times in the red zone. But I’m glad he did.”

O’Leary said he has become close to Winston both on and off the field. They encourage each other and push themselves to achieve more.

Florida State players came away impressed with Winston’s start, but O’Leary thinks the best may be yet to come.

“It just got his confidence higher,” O’Leary said. “He’s going to do even better than he did against Nevada this upcoming week. Hopefully he throws no incompletions this week.”

And for O’Leary, he has his sights set on some big goals. Florida State has had some good tight ends through the years, but not a truly elite one. The last Florida State tight end that was an NFL draft pick was Lonnie Johnson, a second-rounder by Buffalo in 1994.

O’Leary, just one game into his junior season, is already third all-time among Florida State tight ends with seven career touchdowns. And he’s 10th with 37 career receptions.

“I’m ready to be one of the best tight ends to come out of Florida State,” O’Leary said.