The odds are against walk-on football players from having a major impact on a college team, but the players who prevail never really care about being a long shot in the first place. Wide receiver Peyton O’Leary is a prime example of that.
The story so far
O’Leary was a high school captain in three sports — basketball, lacrosse, and football. He was so good at lacrosse that he originally committed to UMass Amherst, but his passion to play football ultimately won out.
O’Leary’s high school career as a football player, which featured 38 catches for 750 yards and 8 touchdowns had a major bump in the road. His senior season was canceled due to the pandemic.
Arriving at Michigan as a walk-on, O’Leary impressed his peers right away, excelling on the scout team in 2021. This led to O’Leary turning heads in training camp last season. He kept getting open and making plays.
“He’s had a Cooper Kupp-like training camp,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said last August. “He’s almost got that nickname around here right now. That’s been tremendous.”
Cornerback Mike Sainristil felt the same about O’Leary’s chops.
“Peyton O’Leary is one that’s coming up right now. Walk on guy, but I don’t even look at him that way,” Sainristil said. “I think he’s right up there with anybody who’s on scholarship, he’s doing really well right now.”
O’Leary ended up appearing in six games in 2022 and notched his first career reception and only one of the season against Colorado State. O’Leary was thought highly enough of for Michigan to offer him a scholarship in February.
Outlook moving forward
O’Leary said in February that the wants to be in the top six receivers this season.
“Once you’re here the best person plays, they don’t care what your name is,” O’Leary said in February.
If Michigan’s spring game is any indication, O’Leary could wind up with a significant increase in playing time this fall.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound wide hauled in six receptions for 126 yards during the spring game and also had a game-winning two-point conversion that put the Maize team up 22-21 over the Blue team with less than two minutes in the game.
Peyton O'Leary. Clutch! pic.twitter.com/GYNOldftfk— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) April 1, 2023
If O’Leary can get open at the clip he did in the spring game while displaying reliable hands, good downfield speed, and excellent route running, the sky is the limit on his potential and he could have a meteoric rise up the depth chart.
In the instance that O’Leary resides more in the WR4-WR6 range, he could still have an impactful role on Michigan’s offense. O’Leary appears to be dangerous in the slot and the odds seem in his favor to receive a steady amount of snaps this fall.