Florida State junior tight end Nick O'Leary made it clear before the season began that he wanted to "get a lot more balls this year" and become more involved in the Seminoles' passing attack, according to The Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo. In the season opener at Pittsburgh on Monday night, the 6'3", 240-pound Palm Beach, Fla., native certainly lived up.
O'Leary only needed four receptions against the Panthers to score three touchdowns in Florida State's blowout win.
The grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, O'Leary wreaked havoc on Pittsburgh in the red zone, scoring on touchdown receptions from 24, two and 10 yards out.
Though he would finish with only 47 yards—fourth-most among all Florida State wide receivers vs. Pittsburgh—his ability to quickly shed coverage and get open in the red zone was ultimately what put the Panthers in an early hole.
But O'Leary's memorable Week 1 outing is no flash-in-the-pan performance. With freshman quarterback Jameis Winston now knowing he has a reliable red-zone safety valve in O'Leary, the third-year pass-catcher is sure to flourish into the Seminoles' most dangerous threat deep in opponents' territory.
Plus, since his freshman season in 2011, O'Leary has become a more utilized playmaker year after year.
After reeling in a dozen passes for 164 yards and a touchdown two seasons ago, O'Leary recorded 21 receptions for 252 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012. Even better, all four of O'Leary's touchdown receptions through his first two seasons came from 10 or fewer yards out.
Through one game in 2013, he already has as many touchdowns as he scored all of last season. That's not to say that O'Leary will find space and touchdowns nearly as easy to come by the rest of the year. But with upcoming home games against Nevada and Bethune-Cookman, the trending tight end will have a great shot to pad his numbers, develop more chemistry with Winston and gain some early-season confidence.
While Florida State's leading receiver, Rashad Greene, will continue to get a majority of the looks from Winston moving forward, when the Seminoles make their way into the red zone, there will be no mistaking who the first-year passer will be looking for.
The fact that only one of O'Leary's seven career touchdown passes has come from more than 10 yards out proves he is most comfortable and effective down around the goal line. In those scenarios, when the field is shortened, O'Leary's combination of size, strength and hands makes him the ideal red-zone target.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!