7:30 p.m., Feb. 4)
Orleans Bengal Michael O'Connor settling into Penn State
Former Orleans Bengal and St. Matthew High
School grad Michael O'Connor is hoping to
make his mark with the Nittany Lions at famed
Penn State Univerisy. File photo
he packed his belongings into the car and drove seven
hours with his parents from Ottawa to State College, freshman
quarterback Michael OConnor knew the routine all
hed be away from home for an extended period of
time while focusing on football, attending classes and
adapting to life on his own like every other college freshman.
But, the same kid who hasnt spent enough time in
one place since he turned 16 to even take his driver's
test will be in the same surroundings for the next four
or five years if all goes according to plan. The early
enrollee arrived at Penn State in January, making his
latest stop the fourth school the 17 year old attended
in the last four football seasons.
was tough being on my own at the beginning just as a 16
year old, said OConnor, who spent time honing
his skills at boarding schools in Tennessee and Florida
his junior and senior year of high school. Im
pretty mature for my age though.
I feel like Im
grown up almost because Ive been away from home
for two years and Im mature now and used to being
on my own.
desire to leave home after his sophomore season of high
school football at the Ashbury College in Ottawa stemmed
from his desire to seek better coaching and top-notch
facilities. Its a path to earning a college scholarship
that was once mixed with small bouts of homesickness,
which would ultimately be outdone by athletic achievements
and new-found independence.
trips home the past year and a half have been infrequent,
stopping for winter break for a few days and maybe a trip
between camps in the summer. When he does return, his
parents are impressed by how eclectic his interests are.
Hell show off his cooking skills and one-time desire
to be a chef by making a peanut-chicken dish and of course
naturally slip back into talking about the sport hes
always loved. Hes serious when he talks about his
football goals and his desire to maybe test out Penn States
business program, both focal points for the 6-foot-4,
learned from a young age how to handle being on his own
and is the first to point out hes had plenty of
help along the way. Ever since he decided to continue
chasing his football dream and seriously pursue the best
opportunities to help maximize his skills there has been
no looking back. OConnor is now the second Canadian-born
player on the Penn State roster, joining Toronto native
a quarterback you will not develop in Canada, said
Victor Tedondo, OConnors trainer in Ottawa
who helped him attend camps in he states. The whole
process is tough on the kids because it is a business
down there especially when it comes down to recruiting.
The parents need to be aware of that. It wont be
easy at all for kids to get offers. Coming from Canada
many of them dont understand that.
up in Ottawa, Michael followed the lead of his older brother,
Matthew, who played linebacker. Tagging along to games
and practices sparked Michaels interest in a sport
that was a distant second to hockey for most of their
friends. Michael tried ice hockey for one year as a boy
but the experiment was short lived.
was brutal, he said with a laugh, adding that he
couldnt figure out how to skate backwards or stop.
Im better on my two feet than on skates.
age 7 OConnor began organized football on Tedondos
youth team and played center and moved around the offensive
line. As a self-described chubby little kid
he then shifted to linebacker, a position that between
his brother, who now plays in the Canadian Junior Football
League and his uncle, who played on a Canadian University
team, seemed to run in the family.
12 years old Michael was in the gymnasium one day throwing
the football around before practice and the coaches happened
to catch a glimpse and liked what they saw. The team needed
a quarterback that season so Michael stepped into the
role and his baseball background helped the transition.
It was a position that became a natural fit for him and
once he hit a growth spurt in seventh grade that is when
his seriousness about the sport started to set in. Track
and field, baseball and basketball were fun too, but nothing
seemed to capture his attention the way football did,
his father recalled.
was always goal oriented and very focused, which is somewhat
unusual for kids that age, John OConnor said.
He had his goals and for him he was latching on
to something he really enjoyed.
Once he moved to
quarterback it seemed to take off from there.
2007 Tedondo started the Gridiron Academy in Ottawa which
aims at helping the top youth football players in Canada
find the best athletic opportunities. Tedondo would meet
with OConnor several times per week for additional
conditioning sessions and the family placed Michael in
the nearby Ashbury College high school where he played
football as a freshman and sophomore.
his freshman year there were recruiting camps to attend
so he could try and earn a college scholarship. Tedondo
and the other players in the academy would take a trip
to the states at least once per month and participate
in 7v7s, camps or various showcases. After OConnor
threw seven interceptions at the first 7v7 Tedondo said
the quarterback, who has always been his toughest critic,
saw just how difficult the competition was.
football in Canada isnt as close as it is in the
states. Were about six years behind, Tedondo
said. He saw two of our kids, a defensive lineman
at UCLA and an outside linebacker at Virginia, get scholarships.
From that time on he decided he wanted to go to the states.
Michael O'ConnorPenn State quarterback Michael O'Connor
traveled to the United States monthly as a freshman and
sophomore in high school to gain exposure and to learn
more about the quarterback position.
was a quarterback and I never had a quarterback before
come from our program. We had defensive linemen, linebackers,
but quarterback is a totally different game.
needed the additional coaching and exposure to garner
scholarship offers and quickly realized that while people
back home thought of him as a dual-threat quarterback,
in the states he wasnt nearly mobile enough.
wasnt the best competition compared to the states
obviously, he said. Up there people thought
I could run, but down here I can barely run at all because
there are just athletes all over the field.
helped me because thats where I started and thats
where I got my roots. I owe a lot of credit to Canadian
football and everything because from a young age they
supported me even when I moved down here.
playing on a field that was 20 yards longer and seven
yards wider than an American football field, OConnor
quickly caught the attention of coaching staffs when he
camped at schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and
Tennessee, among others. He could process information
quickly and while his arm wasnt always the strongest
there, the potential was obvious. As a sophomore in Ottawa
he threw 51 touchdowns and seven interceptions while leading
his team to an undefeated season. Still, the crowds of
200 people at games paled in comparison to what he saw
when he visited campuses and saw how big American football
his first offer arrived it was quickly followed by six
offers in five days. Schools wanted to learn more about
OConnor and with more camps to attend and more opportunities
to learn he realized he needed to leave home. Tedondo
advised he find a quarterback coach along the way too.
thought of sending their barely 16-year-old son away to
school was difficult for John and Debbie OConnor
wasnt an easy decision at the time, but its
something that very few people get the opportunity to
just follow a dream like that and see where it leads,
John said. To be quite honest he chartered his own
path. It wasnt easy for us as his parents. We had
certain stipulations that his academics had to remain
strong and they did.
researching boarding schools, driving through the South
and touring their options, they settled on Baylor School,
a prep school in Chattanooga, Tenn.
headed to school in July already with scholarship offers
from Mississippi State, Toledo and Buffalo. Tedondo found
him a quarterback coach during the process. By the conclusion
of his junior season and just six months after arriving
in Tennessee, OConnors stock continued to
rise. After spending a day at a camp working with former
Florida State Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke the young
quarterback decided to move again.
were great down there in Tennessee, OConnor
said. You hear about southern hospitality and I
definitely got a lot of that. They were very friendly
and helped me.
The opportunity came for me to come
down here to IMG Academy and the opportunity to work with
coach Weinke was just too good to pass up.
the sports academy in Bradenton, Fla. OConnor was
part of the programs first ever football team. Led
by a talented group of players who all headlined their
respective high school teams, OConnor was a captain
and what Weinke dubbed a coachs dream.
the 10-game season he completed 118-of-218 passes for
1,804 yards and threw 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.
He added a pair of rushing touchdowns as the Ascenders
went 8-2. In the offseason he watched as Weinke worked
with an array of NFL quarterbacks who use the facilities
not going to wow you with his arm strength but he throws
the ball with great anticipation and hes able to
do that because he can process information, Weinke
said. I think thats where the great players
separate themselves. Being able to understand exactly
what to do and understanding the timing of it and I think
hes done an outstanding job with that.
was Bill OBriens offense that initially attracted
OConnor to Penn State and by staying along the east
coast it would make attending his games more manageable
for his parents. They could ditch the computer live streams
and see him play in person more than once or twice per
year with Penn State being just seven hours away.
competing in the Under Armour All-America Game in January
and with just a week to decide his collegiate future after
OBriens departure, the quarterback had other
offers on the table. When the family left Ottawa to drive
to State College James Franklin had yet to be officially
introduced as the programs 16th head football coach.
No quarterback coach or offensive coordinator were in
staff that joined him in State College knew OConnor
well from recruiting him at Vanderbilt. Quarterbacks coach
Ricky Rahne came with Franklin to Penn State and remembered
being impressed with OConnor when he camped in Nashville.
known Michael actually for a long time, Rahne said.
Hes a good kid, Im glad he's here. Im
looking forward to coaching him. Hes got a lot of
talent. When Ive seen him in practices, he seems
very coachable. When I had him in camp, he seemed very
coachable. It makes it a lot easier.
course there are a couple things keeping the four-star
early enrolle from seeing the field right away. One of
those is quarterback and Big Ten Freshman of the Year
Christian Hackenberg who is coming off a season where
he threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. With just
a year separating the two players and with the expected
addition of dual-threat quarterback commit Trace McSorley
who previously committed to Franklin at Vanderbilt, OConnor
finds himself in a position unlike any hes faced
heads into spring ball as only the second scholarship
quarterback on campus, a move that would seemingly give
the pro-style quarterback the edge to secure the Lions
No. 2 job.
an injury to Hackenberg, OConnor would seem poised
for a redshirt season and it would give him ample time
to learn the offense while working with Rahne and offensive
coordinator John Donovan. It might mean taking a little
longer to see the field than hed like, but after
the past few years OConnor isnt about to back
a great quarterback. Theres no doubting that,
OConnor said of Hackenberg. Hes going
to be the quarterback next year, you know its pretty
much a given unless injury or whatever. But Im still
going to go in there, compete and work my tail off and
as long as I work hard good things will happen. I know
as long as I keep working hard then Ill get to see
the field one day. Thats all I can wish for.
quarterback at a Big Ten school at Penn State I mean,
story was made possible thanks to their generous support
of our local business
www.orleansonline.ca's main page