O'Connor Anxious to get Started

Canadian quarterback — by way of IMG Academy in Florida — is set to enroll at Penn State next month. A recent visit to campus only solidified his commitment to the Lions.

Michael O'Connor completed his second season of American football in November. But judging by his stats, you wouldn't know it.

The IMG (Bradenton, Fla.) Academy quarterback completed 118 of 218 passes for 1,804 yards and 18 touchdowns. He ran for another 26 yards and two scores, and led the Ascenders to an 8-2 record in the program's first season. Now, he's ready to come North again.

Native to Canada, O'Connor ventured into football in the U.S. during his junior year in Tennessee. Along the way, he picked up the skills needed to play quarterback, grabbed a spot at IMG under the direction of former Florida State Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke, and received 10 verbal scholarship offers.

The one that stuck out was from Penn State. He was attracted to the program — one of just a few with a Canadian on its roster in running back Akeel Lynch — by its offense, and its leadership under Bill O'Brien. A few Saturdays ago, he discovered why he fell in love with the program on an official visit to see the Lions home finale vs. Nebraska. And come Jan. 12, he'll officially wear their blue and white, one of four prospects to date who intend to early enroll.

"The season was a lot of fun," O'Connor said. "We started getting more comfortable with each other, and learned a lot under Coach Weinke about the game of football. I did well, and had a good season. We would have liked to win those two games and go undefeated, but it was a lot of fun.

"Hopefully, I can take it forward."

Before his final high school season began, the signal caller spoke of a desire to improve his throwing motion, accuracy and footwork. Neatly tied into the trio of goals was a strive for consistency, something O'Connor said Weinke had identified early as an area for improvement.

After 10 games and months of work, he feels those goals are achieved. His mechanics are improved, his release quicker. He pointed out an ability to get the ball out faster, helped by a better pocket presence. All are things he'll need at Penn State.

The Lions' QB corps is led by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg, who starred in his first season under O'Brien. Sophomore Tyler Ferguson recently announced he is transferring out of the program, leaving walk-on passers Austin Whipple, D.J. Crook and Jack Seymour as the remaining competition.

"It was an amazing first game-day experience at Penn State," O'Connor said. "It exceeded my expectations. The whole environment around State College on game day — the passion everyone had for Penn State. Of all the schools I've been to, it had the best environment and it was a lot of fun to get to.

"I learned what Christian was doing at the line of scrimmage to change the play, and that's really cool. There are so many things a quarterback can do in Coach O'Brien's offense. That's one thing I took from the trip."

He also took with him a better understanding of his future head coach, and the system he employs. Asked if the Hackenberg's success ever made him rethink his commitment, O'Connor offered a simple response.

"Not really, no," he said. "Recruiting is such a big business, and you are always going to get coaches trying to talk to you to persuade you one way or the other. I kept my circle small with my coach and parents, and we got a plan together. I believe firmly in my decision.

"I got to clear some things up with Coach O'Brien. It was nice to sit down with him again, my parents and myself, and put together a plan. I just got a better feel for the college. Not just the football team, but the academics, and for what it's like to be a Penn State football player not just on Saturday but throughout the year."

Though Penn State recently announced the resignation of quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, O'Brien himself actually handled all of the recruiting contact with O'Connor since last summer. So the relationship between the young QB and the PSU head coach has been strong all along.

O'Connor will major in business upon arriving at Penn State, and said before that he hopes to slim down to 225 pounds from his current 228. At last measurement, he checked in at 6-foot-5.

He's unsure if he'll redshirt his first year, but after seeing Hackenberg earn five Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors in his first year, it seems likely. Regardless, O'Connor believes his future is bright, starting in January.

"First off, I want to get adjusted to the academic side of things," O'Connor said. "Making the jump from high school to college is huge for academics, so I want to get comfortable with classes. That was one of the main focal points about coming early and getting extra half of year.

"On the field, I want to begin to digest the offensive playbook and learn the offense. There are a lot of different things Coach O'Brien does. I'm looking forward to being able to go out there and compete and get better every day."

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