Not Just a Passing Interest

Florida QB O'Connor will visit Penn State this week while on a tour of Northern schools. He already has a pretty good feel for the Nittany Lion program.

In the span of three months, Michael O'Connor has moved from Tennessee to Florida, enrolled in a new school, and is nearing double digit verbal scholarship offers. Not bad for a quarterback that came to the United States from Canada just six months ago.

But the warm weather has brought out the best in the 6-foot-5, 220-pound gunslinger from IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), and the junior has a Northern swing mapped out for the end of March, with a stop at Penn State included Wednesday.

“[Quarterback] Coach [Charlie] Fisher watched my film, and he got in contact with my coach, who then told me to give Coach Fisher a call,” O'Connor said. “Since then, I call him once a week to check in and see how things are going, and to build a relationship.”

The visit will be the juniors' second to University Park, coming on the heels of a trip to State College for a NIKE combine event during his freshman year of high school. This time, though, he won't be competing, but rather comparing -- the campus, its facilities and coaching staff -- to what he remembers from his last time in Happy Valley.

NCAA sanctions weren't apart of O'Connor's memories from the previous, and they won't be entering his mind much this time, either.

“They're a great football school, and no one can really do anything about [the sanctions]. That will not be a major factor by the time I get there, and it won't be much of a factor to me,” O'Connor said. “They have beautiful facilities, and the stadium and campus is amazing, which is a bonus.”

O'Connor went to Florida hoping to find more opportunities, and it didn't take long. The sprawling academy along the state's gulf coast is as close to a college lifestyle as an interscholastic athlete can find. The junior is trained by IMG head coach and former Florida State Heisman trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke. O'Connor and his teammates begin their day with a 6 a.m. lift, similar to Penn State' 5 a.m. winter workouts.

It's not all football at the academy, though, as O'Connor sees his days split between school and football, saturating himself with the former in the morning before hitting the gridiron in the afternoon.

It's been all positive so far.

“When I got here, I knew that sometimes I have good footwork, but sometimes I get sloppy,” O'Connor said. “I needed to work on getting it to be in the right place and have the right footwork every single time. Coach Weinke is a great coach, and works on all the little things, too.

“The weight program has been phenomenal. I've gained 12 pounds in muscle. On the field, I think I've become more consistent because I'm getting a lot more reps. I'm now smooth in my drops and consistent with my release point.”

Fisher has likely documented all of these marked improvements in O'Connor's film, which is why the Lions, short on scholarships, have showed such strong interest early. But the quarterback also has another feather in his cap, for after reclassifying in January, he is not just a Class of 2014 athlete, but also an early enrollee candidate, too. And even though none of Penn State's current scholarship stable -- made up of a pair of sophomores in Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson, plus FOX Sports NEXT five-star class of 2013 commit Christian Hackenberg -- will graduate at the end of the 2013 season, O'Connor's ability to count toward the Class of 2013 is helpful to his cause.

So what's helpful to Penn State's? Simply, Bill O'Brien's pro-style offense, a style of play the junior believes is becoming even rarer across the college football landscape.

“I want to go to a school where I can be the leader of the offense, and be able to dissect the defense and change calls on the line,” O'Connor said. “That's what they expect, and they give the quarterback that kind of power. It's a great school, and one of the last in the NCAA that has a true pro-style offense. That's very intriguing.”

Michigan State, Notre Dame and Rutgers will also receive stops this week, and the junior says he is looking forward to all four unofficial treks. While at Penn State, he'll have the chance to take in a spring practice session.

He's also likely looking forward to his next chat with Fisher.

“He's really open and honest with me,” O'Connor said. “We talk about more than football, so that's cool, and he's always interested in what's going on down here in Florida.

“He's a good guy, and it's been good so far.”

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