Mac O’Keefe tries not to think about the record he’s about to break, not to read about it, not to hear about it, not to pay attention to it. But it’s not that simple. You only have to take one look at social media to see it in the face.

O’Keefe, a lacrosse star at Penn State, is one goal away from breaking the NCAA scoring record with an additional year of eligibility since the KOVID-19 pandemic cut short his final season after seven games in 2020. He knows the record is there, he knows he’s definitely going to break it – probably this weekend – and he knows what it’s going to mean for him, his family and this team, but he’s not going to let it get to him.

I see it a little bit, yes, O’Keefe told ESPN. I do try to keep a lot out of it, because I think if you focus too much, it can get a little overwhelming.

I try to focus on what this team can do to become a better team. We haven’t had the best start to the season and I’m trying to turn that around now.

O’Keefe is doing his part.

Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe is averaging 2.3 goals and 3.3 assists in her career this season. Penn State athletics

He leads the Nittany Lions, 2-6, with 19 goals and two games to go before the Big Ten Tournament, which precedes the NCAA Tournament. He is in a good position to win the race and set a new record.

O’Keefe has played in six NCAA games this season with 192 goals. O’Keefe’s two goals in the final three minutes of Saturday’s loss against Rutgers brought his season total to 211. He is one of the record holders ahead of former Duke star Justin Guterding, another Long Island product who is two years older than O’Keefe, grew up 11 miles away in Garden City and played for O’Keefe’s father’s lacrosse club, Team 91.

Averaging 2.3 goals per game this season and a career average of 3.3, O’Keefe has proven himself.

I’ve been a head coach for 21 years, I’ve coached longer, and I’ve been involved in lacrosse my whole life, and like I said, I’ve been around, played with, or coached some really dynamic players and shooters, said Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen, played or coached a striker like Mac O’Keefe.

In all my years, he’s been at the top of the list of people who are as dynamic as he is, and I think it’s not only an incredible record to put his name in, but I think it’s really symbolic and representative of the time and effort that Mac has put into it, and the talent that he represents.

However, O’Keefe, like his coach Tambroni, would not say for sure that he could or would break the record this season. Anything can happen, as they saw last year. I think it could happen, yes, of course, O’Keefe said. I think I’m surrounded by incredible people and they do everything for me. So I’m very fortunate to be in this position, and I think it would be a very nice accomplishment, but I just want to win lacrosse games and win a national championship. That’s why I came here.

It was made by O’Keefe, who broke it last year when the numbers were more favorable before the season was canceled, during a 12-hour bus ride back to State College from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He had a streak and scored 28 goals in seven games.

If… and at this point, it’s more likely that… if it happens before the end of O’Keefe’s second senior season, he’ll appreciate it just as much.

It would be something very special. I love playing lacrosse. Lacrosse has always been my life, O’Keefe says. I think if I get to where I am now, and maybe one day the record is broken, that will be special not only for me, but for my family.

It’s a testament to everything they’ve done for me, all the time, money and effort they’ve put into me to get me where I am today. So I think it would be very special if I could share that with them.

Whether it’s Saturday at home or next weekend in Columbus, Ohio, his parents, Brian and Lynann, will be there, as they have been all season.

You don’t often talk about the drive with Mac….. Or each other. Bryan thinks Lynann and Mack talked about it briefly once, but that’s all. Tambroni didn’t tell Mac either. In fact, Tambroni didn’t know Mack would be in the record books until the season began. However, Brian O’Keefe said he’s been waiting a long time and it’s slowly starting to get to him, especially this season.

If… and if… Mack scored his 213th goal. His father, a former professional lacrosse boxer, said there would be a party somewhere, somehow.

It gets very emotional in there, Brian says. I will try to keep control, but it will be a very emotional moment for me and my family.

When Brian Mack watches a game, he doesn’t see a prolific scorer or a future lacrosse legend. He watches a little boy shoot a ball in the backyard for two hours every night, not thinking that one day it could actually happen.

It almost didn’t work. Mac O’Keefe was a goalie until the eighth grade, when he switched completely to offense. He could always shoot, his father said, but he didn’t start his prep school career with the satisfaction of finishing it.

Mac O’Keefe leads the Nittany Lions 2-6 and 19 goals and has two games left before the Big Ten Tournament begins. Penn State athletics

When O’Keefe verbally committed to Penn State after the ninth grade, Tambroni had limited expectations of the future target king. He thought O’Keefe would contribute as best he could. Those expectations changed during O’Keefe’s junior and senior seasons at Syosset High School as he settled in, got stronger and more assertive, which helped strengthen his shot. By the time he graduated from high school, O’Keefe was an All-American and led Nassau County with 63 goals in 2015, a precursor to his production at Penn State.

We thought a much higher level of potential was possible, Tambroni said.

The proof came early in O’Keefe’s junior year, during defensive drills, when the goalies took turns standing in four different nets with two shooters waiting for them. For three of the four targets, the savings rate was 50 to 60 percent, Tambroni recalls. O’Keefe had about 25-30%.

You knew from the moment he came in as a freshman that we had something special, Tambroni said.

O’Keefe proved that in his first season, when he set a school record with 51 goals. Two years later, as a junior, he led that list with 78 points and led Penn State to the Final Four in 2019.

Then came 2020.

O’Keefe continued his fast pace in 2019, scoring a whopping 11 times. March scored an average of four goals per game. A day earlier, Penn State had defeated Furman 22-7, making it 5-2 and gaining momentum, O’Keefe recalled.

During a 12-hour bus ride back to campus in the middle of spring break, O’Keefe and the rest of his team began seeing messages filling their Twitter feeds. The Ivy League canceled the rest of the season. The Patriot League did the same. O’Keefe knew what was coming. Shortly thereafter, the Big Ten ended the remainder of the winter season and the entire spring season. The bus stopped briefly at a gas station and Tambroni, struggling to find the right words because he had never faced a situation like this in his 21-year career as a head coach, gathered the seniors.

He said it was just from the heart.

There were tears and hugs and lots of uncertainty, especially for seniors like O’Keefe. He was already looking for a job selling cyber security products, but was also planning to play lacrosse professionally. He graduated with a degree in communications and was a first round selection to the National Lacrosse League in September.

For the next 18 days, O’Keefe didn’t know what the future would hold and, he says now, never gave it a second thought. He spent that time with his teammates, reminiscing about what they did as a group and spending what they thought would be their last days together.

The day after the NCAA announcement on the 30th. March had announced that spring athletes would be eligible for an additional year, O’Keefe was in Tambroni’s office. He would come back.

When the news broke that we would have another year, I texted coach Tambroni: Can I meet you tomorrow? O’Keefe said. And I was in his office at about 8:00 in the morning. We were just talking about a plan to move forward, so there was no hesitation. I was fortunate enough to be able to go back and finish what I started, and I’m very grateful for that.

Therefore, he will be able to follow the story.

If… or, again, if… If that happens, Tambroni is sure there should be an asterisk next to O’Keefe’s file. It’s not necessary for him. Tambroni also thinks it probably would have happened last season, but he sees the number of games it will take O’Keefe to get the record as the deciding factor in whether the record needs some puncturing. If O’Keefe breaks the record on Saturday, it will be his 64th career victory. Be a career game.

Guterding has it for 75.

Incredibly, Tambroni said. If he had the same opportunity to play four and a half years in a very demanding league – but when you add it all up, it becomes four years of playing experience, right? – I hope no one puts an asterisk next to it or says anything other than they probably did it in as much or less time than the guys in the top three, four or five.

If O’Keefe wants to continue his career after the Big Ten tournament, Penn State will likely have to receive the conference’s automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament. If that doesn’t happen, one of the most successful college lacrosse careers in history, if not the most successful, could end in early May.

O’Keefe may not want to leave, even with a record goal in hand, but he’ll take it, even without the possibility of playing again in 2021.

It’s incredible, he said. If it had ended in the middle of the season last year and I hadn’t been able to finish my senior year, it would have left a bad taste in my mouth. Not only for me, but for the other guys who know they will never play lacrosse again. It wouldn’t have been a good feeling, so the opportunity to come back was huge, and I’m very grateful.

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