The Hamilton West football team is happy to have senior lineman Dan Ornosky back on the field after he missed last season due to a knee injury. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Dan Ornosky has been a two-way lineman most of his life and is especially adept on the offensive line. Ask him what he prefers, however, and he won’t take sides.

“I love ’em both,” the Hamilton West senior said. “I love to be able to hit someone, and I love to be able to put someone on their back.”

Unfortunately, that was a lost love last season as Ornosky had to sit out the year after suffering a knee injury in the first scrimmage.

“I was playing defense, making a tackle,” he recalled. “I felt something hit the side of my knee.”

And that was that.

On Sept. 7, 2017, Ornosky underwent surgery, and the Hornets’ offensive line was suddenly without its best player. Ornosky had started at center and done well as a sophomore and was being counted on heavily to lend leadership while snapping the ball once again.

“Experience is everything when you’re talking about the offensive line,” coach Tom Hoglen said. “When I look back, Gian DeGuzman was our only guy with any experience. We played two sophomores (Zach Medina and Gage Storer) who never played a varsity snap. Last year to this year, what a big difference. Now those guys have experience, as well as Dan and Javeon (Edler at center). It gives us a nice solid offensive line.”

Jacob Darby, John Dyott and Pat Migliaccio will also see time up front, and it is Ornosky who will be leading the way at left guard. The 6-1, 290-pounder was moved one spot over in order to take advantage of his size and strength. He will also see some time on defense.

“He’s definitely our leader, especially with our linemen, but with the whole team as well, that’s why he’s named captain,” Hoglen said. “We’re just happy he’s out here having fun again playing the game of football. He does all the right things, that’s what we expect.”

That should not be surprising, as Ornosky has been a lineman and been around linemen all his life. His dad, John Ornosky, was recruited by Division II programs but blew out his knee and ended up going to West Virginia for academics. His older half-brother, Frank Quartucci, was a former Hornet standout who earned a scholarship to Rutgers and has gone on to strong-man competition fame.

“My dad coached me and (Frank) up and, between both of them, I was able to get everything down to perfection, especially in the weight room and on the field,” Ornosky said. “Growing up I was always at West watching Frank play. He would come out with me whenever he had the opportunity. When he was at Rutgers, we didn’t have as much time as I would like, but every time he was here on weekends we would be on the field and every day, and after he was done school we would work out together.”

Ornosky started in Hamilton Pop Warner but struggled with the league’s weight limit, moved to Hamilton PAL and played there until his freshman year. During his first season he got called up to JV and dressed for varsity games. As a sophomore, he did not surprise himself by earning the starting center’s job on varsity.

“I worked hard to where I believed I had the ability to do that,” he said. “It was nice that I did make it, but I thought I earned it.”

Ornosky was set for a big junior season, as Hamilton was loaded with senior skill players in need of a veteran lineman to open holes for them. That all came crashing down when Ornosky was injured.

“That was the worst feeling of my life,” he said. “I was playing football since I was 5. I was around football every day of my life. Losing it for a year sucked.”

Rather than sulk, Ornosky decided to make himself valuable to the team in other ways (while also sneaking in his second love: fishing).

“He stuck around,” Hoglen said. “Even when he was injured, he was here all the time helping the younger guys get better and that’s gonna pay off for this year.”

Aside from aiding his teammates, Ornosky was undergoing self-therapy at the same time.

“It was a good way to stay on the team,” he said. “It made me feel like I was still there. I helped out our sophomore tackles and our junior center. I wanted to make sure we had a good team this year, a good O-line especially. I worked hard with them, had them working out, training on the field every day, trying to get them better.”

Hoglen felt it was a glowing example of what Ornosky is all about.

“It just shows where his heart is—with this football team,” the coach said. “He wants everyone to do well, even though he couldn’t play last year. He was there to push those guys and make them better. And that went into the off-season as well; with his rehab.”

Which took longer than expected. Ornosky expected to be cleared in January but it didn’t happen until April. When he got the go-ahead, he burst from the gate and never slowed down.

“As soon as I came off rehab and the doctor cleared me, I went at it,” he said.

Ornosky worked out two hours per day, six days a week, lifting, running “and everything else.” He had gone from 260 to 290. While he is still around that weight, those extra 30 pounds have gone from fat to muscle, making him stronger than he has ever been. Ornosky now squat thrusts 550 pounds, up 100 from last year.

Despite some ridiculously hot and humid days this summer, he continued to push himself; knowing that he had to put together some good footage early this season since he was robbed of film from his junior year that college recruiters love to see.

“I coached his brother, big Frank, and I always knew he’d have that work ethic and get better,” Hoglen said. “Dan is one of the hardest workers we have in our program. He’s worked hard this off season to come back stronger than ever. He’s improved and did a good job at camps this summer with colleges. We’re hoping he plays hard in the first few games, makes some good tapes and we’ll see where things lead.”

Work ethic is not the only similarity between the brothers. Hoglen sees it in their ability and the way they play.

“Just brute strength,” the coach said. “Frank was a real good pass blocker and Dan takes a lot of pride in that. He works a lot of the drills his brother taught him over the years. He’s got great technique. You’re not gonna bull rush him and knock him over. He’s gonna clear a path for us, that’s what we need.”

And while he has the ability to pass block, Ornosky’s dream drive is to grind out a 95-yard scoring march, all on the ground.

“I love running the ball, going down field,” he said.

His biggest love, however, is just being on the line. The anonymity of an offensive lineman doesn’t bother him; as it’s all about what’s happening in the moment.

“There’s no better feeling than when you’re one on one,” Ornosky said. “You’ve got one man in front of you, and I love that. I see that person in front of me, it’s like, ‘I want to better than you.’ It’s about the team but when you’re on that O-line against a D-tackle, that’s all there is.”

For Ornosky, that’s more than enough. Especially after having it taken away for a year.