If you squint and tilt your head slightly to the left while at a St. Ambrose men’s tennis match you may think you are watching Kevin Bacon tearing up the court. In fact, you are seeing his look-a-like, junior tennis player Sam O’Donnell.
While keeping rhythm like Kevin Bacon is not O’Donnell’s strong suit, athletics are. He represents the Fighting Bees in both tennis and football. While he admits that football is his main focus, he finds tennis to be equally as satisfying. His favorite depends on what season he is in.
“I’ve always been an advocate of multi-sport athletes,” the Cedar Rapids native said. “In my college search, one of my deciding factors was finding a school that would let me play both.”
First picking up a racket 15 years ago, he has perused the game mostly out of self interest. Playing both singles and doubles he sees them as two different games. Singles wins him over because of the one-on-one competition. In this gridlock he has found that the game is not about physical ability, but rather mental toughness.
“While I’m the poster child of what not to act like on a tennis court, I try to keep a level head and a short memory, “ O’Donnell said.
Nerves and superstitions are not in the cards for him either.
“Each completion is just like another day in the backyard playing with the boys,” he admits. And as for superstitions, “Spare me the lucky socks and Lil Wayne songs.”
His biggest fans have always been his family. Older brother and Ambrose alumni Barney O’Donnell was the one reason that Sam chose to make the transfer to Ambrose. The transfer would mean that the brothers would finally be teammates on the football field.
“While I prefer to lead, he is one guy that I would follow into any battle,” he said about his brother who graduated last year ninth on the list of most touchdowns in a single season.
With an injury, their dream of playing together never became a reality, but never has O’Donnell regretted his decision to transfer. Ambrose has become his home and he is happy that he got to spend a year with the person he admires most.
When he is not whipping backhands or catching passes, he does not see himself as a jock.
“I have plenty of interests outside of athletics,” he explained, “Once practice is over I like to talk about or do something unrelated.”
One of those unrelated activities would be riding his bike around town checking out the views of the river. Or he can be found drinking coffee and enjoying some smooth jazz.
O’Donnell and the rest of the Fighting Bees tennis team will wrap up their spring season this week. Traveling to Grand Rapids, Mich., the men will compete in the regional tournament on April 26.