University of Nevada receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange uses CFL connections to prepare for pros

Photo courtesy: University of Nevada

Canada Prep Academy prepared receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange for an NCAA scholarship and shot at the professional level.

O’Leary-Orange used the opportunity to play a full schedule in the United States to impress recruiters and earn multiple offers from Division I programs. PAC-12 schools such as the University of California and Oregon State University came calling, but the first one stuck with the Toronto native the most: the University of Nevada.

“It was the ability to compete against some of the best competition in America, I definitely love to compete more than anything,” O’Leary-Orange said on the 3DownNation podcast.

The 23-year-old had a stellar sophomore season in 2017 when he caught 39 passes for 618 yards and four touchdowns. He caught 11 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns against San Diego State University that November, which is the highest yardage total in a game by a Wolfpack player since 1999.

One year later, O’Leary-Orange was striving to improve on that production as a junior when a freak play took place. The six-foot-four, 210-pound target remembers telling senior quarterback Ty Gangi that he could beat the opposing defensive back on a ‘go’ route. The ball went up and O’Leary-Orange came down hard and hit his head.

“I remember being held down by eight different people. Honestly, it was really shocking for me. It was devastating,” O’Leary-Orange said after being stretchered off the field and rushed to hospital.

“You never really know with concussions. The recovery process definitely took its time and it took its toll on me, especially trying to come back and play right away as soon as I possibly could. I’m just really glad that I’m able to talk about it in a positive way.”

Following just one week on the sidelines, O’Leary-Orange had a CT scan and passed concussion protocol, which made him able to return to game action. It’s a distant memory for the big-bodied pass catcher as his focus has shifted to earning a job in the pros. Just as the concussion derailed his time at Nevada, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the entire world into crisis.

Nevada was forced to cancel their pro day, but O’Leary-Orange is confident in his physical conditioning and speed. Workout videos have been sent to teams around Canada and his Wolfpack strength and conditioning coaches can vouch for the receiver’s pure athleticism and ability to run.

“I definitely think I would’ve ran a 4.37-4.38,” O’Leary-Orange said confidently.

The pass catcher inherited that athleticism from his father Doyle Orange, who was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1974 NFL draft. He went on to play four seasons in the CFL — three for the Toronto Argonauts and one with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — and rushed for 1,055 yards on 205 carries in 1975 to be named an East Division all-star.

“The game of football was always played and talked about at my house — it intrigued me as a kid,” O’Leary-Orange said. “I definitely got a lot of my dad’s athleticism.”

Younger brother Liam O’Leary-Orange did, too — he’s currently a member of the Ryerson University Rams basketball team. Brendan chose to focus on football while at Canada Prep and the decision has him on the cusp of a pro career.

“O’Leary-Orange has a big frame and could develop into a classic Canadian-style slotback,” one CFL scout said. “While learning the nuances of the CFL game, he could be a mismatch on the outside just based on his sheer size.”

There are Nevada connections in the CFL with whom O’Leary-Orange has been in contact, two of whom are Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ running back Don Jackson and Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo.

“I talked to Cody even though I never actually played with him, just to try and get a better understanding of everything and soak in as much knowledge as I possibly can. I definitely took in a lot of important information.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.