Canadian Connection to Penn State

QB Michael O'Connor felt at home on a visit to Happy Valley, thanks in part to a countryman who is already on the Nittany Lions' roster.

When Michael O'Connor arrived at Penn State Wednesday, he found a slice of home.

He didn't find it in Beaver Stadium, a cavernous football stadium that is nothing like the hockey barns in his native Ottawa. Nor did he find it on the University Park campus, it's sprawling sidewalks and large buildings not all that similar to the schools back home.

Instead, it was a person who gave O'Connor a feeling of connection, and familiarity, at Penn State. And even though they met face to face for the first time on a cold afternoon, their relationship stretches much longer than a day.

“I spoke with Akeel Lynch at length, and that was great,” O'Connor said of his conversation with the Lion running back native to Ontario. “It's good knowing they already have a Canadian, and it was amazing. The number of Canadians playing Division I football is really small, so it's nice to hook up whenever you can. I trust him, so it was good to hear what he had to say about Penn State.

“I trust him because I already have known him for about a year,” O'Connor added. “My trainer back in Ottawa, Vic Tedondo, opened doors for me here in the States, and I met Akeel through him. We talk through social media, and keep in touch.”

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound signal caller from IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) is in the midst of a Northern swing this week, stopping at Penn State after previous unofficial stops at Michigan State and Notre Dame. He'll visit Rutgers Thursday.

Wednesday, though, was all about Penn State. The junior spent over eight hours in University Park, spending time with coaches, academic counselors and players alike on a visit he summed up as great.

“We met first with [quarterbacks] Coach Charlie Fisher and [head] Coach [Bill] O'Brien, as well as Coach [Craig] Fitzgerald, the weight lifting coach,” O'Connor said. “We then took a tour of the campus and met with some academic advisors, and that was great because they are great there, and important to me.

“After that, we went inside Beaver Stadium, and that was pretty cool. And then we saw spring practice, of course.”

O'Connor and his parents spent a half-hour “building a relationship” with O'Brien. The family took something away from both that experience as well as getting to see Fisher and O'Brien in action for the Lions' fifth spring practice.

“One thing I like about Coach Fisher is that he's always positive with his QBs, and gives them positive reinforcement,” the prospect said. “Coach O'Brien has such great leadership, and his knowledge about the game is crazy. He was the [quarterback] position coach at the highest level, and the way he commanded practice -- it was really up-tempo. They didn't waste a minute, and got everything they could out of it. He is demanding, but that's a good thing.”

No decision is imminent for O'Connor, with the Scarlet Knights closing out his final stop of the spring break period at IMG. He'll then return to the Florida campus for a month of academics before spring practice kicks off in May, a period the junior says he is looking forward to almost as much as the string of visits he's been on.

“I'm enjoying it, I really am,” he said. “I wouldn't have been able to go on these trips without football; it's opened up a lot of door for me, and I'm just going through it and trying to enjoy it. … My parents [Debbie and John] are doing most of the driving, and it's hard on them and I give them a lot of thanks to have the opportunity to visit a lot of different schools.”

Speaking of having it hard, the prospect also is well aware of the Nittany Lions' NCAA induced sanctions, which include three more years of bowl ineligibility, scholarship losses and a fine.

It's the way the program has dealt with those circumstances, though, that impressed the junior the most on this day, one filled with plenty of reasons to be awed.

“I didn't know much about Penn State coming in, but one thing that impressed me is that they're doing a good job with the way they're dealing with the sanctions and being proactive with it,” O'Connor said. “I was really impressed by it; they accept it and know it's there, but move forward and find the positives and the solution.”

Conversely, O'Connor likes that even with the success Penn State enjoyed last season, nobody associated with the program seems to be too full of themselves.

“I was also impressed that they don't really try to glam it up or anything,” he said. “They don't try to make it like Hollywood. They said this is what we do, and how we do it, and they have success with it. It's pretty straight forward, and they've had good football.”

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