Long before joining his family at the head table of an Ottawa restaurant Saturday afternoon, Michael O'Connor knew what college he would attend after graduating from IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) next June.
The reasons were many, and they were clear. He decided before he boarded a plane from Florida to Canada Friday that he would commit to head coach Bill O'Brien and Penn State the following day. He admits his mind was made up before takeoff.
Yet, the 6-foot-5, 220 pound FOX Sports NEXT three-star quarterback wanted to come home, to Canada, to break the news. It just felt right, he said.
So, too, did the idea of being the Lions 11th verbal commitment of the class of 2014.
"If you asked me four or five years ago something about Penn State, I probably couldn't tell you anything at all, other than that it is in Pennsylvania," O'Connor explained. "It's all been a whirlwind. I could have never pictured this happening.
"I'm happy I got the opportunity, but I never expected something like this."
He now knows plenty about Penn State. Fed a steady diet of interest from State quarterback coach Charlie Fisher, O'Connor also noted his intrigue and excitement regarding playing for O'Brien. He said both coaches are the type he wants to play for.
Academics played a large role in his decision, too. The signal caller extolled high praise for State's Smeal College of Business, and noted his intent to pursue a business-related major, though which one is yet to be determined. The biggest attraction came on the field, though.
It's there, after all, that the Lions roster just two scholarship quarterbacks in JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson and soon-to-be freshman Christian Hackenberg. He heard plenty from Fisher about the chances he would have to one day earn State's starting job, and ultimately, the chance of working under center for he and O'Brien was too much to pass up.
"It was a great fit for me. They have good academics, a good business program, and on the football side of things, Coach O'Brien is a good coach, and so is Coach Fisher," O'Connor said. "Their players are type of players I want to play with. They are high character guys, and have a lot of class. That is the type of players I want to surround myself with.
"They didn't promise me anything, but one thing they said was that they would let me compete [for the starting job]. That's all I can ask for, and it felt like home when I visited."
Thanks to current State running back Akeel Lynch, it feels even more like home. The Canada native quickly embraced and answered questions for O'Connor during his March visit, and the two struck up a quick relationship. If for no other reason, it was largely thanks to the fact that they will be a part of a small group of Canadian born players that will dot Division-I rosters.
Naturally, Lynch was the first Penn State player O'Connor contacted after offering his verbal pledge. They didn't chat about football, or anything related to it in this brief conversation. No, something more important was to be discussed: Would O'Connor receive a Canadian-centric nickname from O'Brien, too? He knew Lynch had been dubbed the ‘Big Maple' by the Lion Leader, and now he, too, wanted to know if a nickname would be waiting.
"It's so reassuring for me knowing there is a Canadian on the roster. He's a hard worker, and that's what coach was saying," O'Connor explained. "I want to work that hard myself, and work as hard as he does. We both have the same goal: to play as Canadians. There's not many schools that can really say that.
"Whatever he [O'Brien] has planned, I'll go with it. I asked Akeel ‘if you're big maple, what am I?' He said I'll have to wait until I get there to find out, so it will be interesting."
Three more weeks in Canada await O'Connor before a return to IMG in July and the start of preparations for his senior season. Throughout the spring, he said he has gained comfort in head coach and former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke's offense, and became more familiar with his teammates, too.
An official visit to University Park for a 2013 State home game will be made, though he's unsure at this point which game he will choose to attend. Like the class of 2013, he hopes to come on a date when many of his classmates can be in attendance, as well.
For now, though, the relief of the recruiting process ending is most important to O'Connor. Gone will be the phone calls to coaches, the presence of them at workouts and his school, and the never-ending feeling of being unsure where he'll play after high school.
That's all decided now. Instead of worrying, he will now begin to become comfortable, just like he hopes to be at Penn State.
"They are one of the top programs in the country, and really competitive," he said of State's academic programs. "A lot of great football players from Penn State came out with business degrees, and have done well.
"The alumni base is over half a million, too, so after football; obviously I want to play in the NFL. But if that doesn't work out, I'll be setup for success."