Up until last season, the Badgers hadn't won a football game in state of Michigan since 2002 and have done so with virtually no scholarship players from the state on their roster, as only offensive lineman Zac Matthias (Hemlock) has pledged his commitment to UW since 2006. With the Badgers breaking their unlucky streak with a victory at Michigan last season, recruiting coordinator DelVaughn Alexander is looking to break his.
A four-star defensive tackle that is ranked No.14 in the country by Scout.com, O'Brien (6-foot-3, 287 pounds) made the trip to Wisconsin this past weekend to talk with Alexander and watch the Badgers scrimmage.
"I've heard great things from my buddy Matt Godin about it, so I wanted to go see it for myself," O'Brien told Badger Nation Sunday. "I liked how they practiced. They were real intense in practice, and hitting hard like they were playing a game. That definitely opened my eyes and I like their coaching staff."
Alexander first made contact with O'Brien his sophomore year when the Badgers' wide receivers coach stopped in at his school. A Big Ten guy by nature, O'Brien has recognized Wisconsin has made strides since Alexander first approached him, especially with the team reaching the Rose Bowl last season.
"Going to that school, you definitely recognize that they play together, they are at the top of the Big Ten and they are working to stay there," O'Brien said. "It's definitely an eye opener."
The real eye opener for O'Brien, however, was the one negative of the weekend. Being told by Alexander that they were probably going to offer him, a visit up to Coach Bret Bielema's office yielded some good conversation, but no official offer.
"I thought they were going to this weekend, so I was surprised, as was Coach Alexander a little bit," O'Brien said. "The interest is still there and I am definitely keeping my eyes open for them."
O'Brien has offers from Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Tennessee as well as interest from dozens of other Big Ten and SEC schools. Although he hasn't started narrowing his list, O'Brien has visited Tennessee three separate times, wants to visit Alabama and Penn State this spring and will be active this summer.
"I definitely want to get my offer list up and have some more options," said O'Brien. "I'll be taking a lot of unofficial visits and I'll be doing my fair share of camps. I won't go camp crazy, but I am going to head to as many schools as I can."
One of which may be Wisconsin, with O'Brien and Alexander talked about and O'Brien said is a ‘possibility.'
O'Brien is quickly developing into one of the rising prospects in the Midwest. After having 63 tackles and three sacks as a sophomore, O'Brien said he turned into a weigh-room junkie to improve his strength and his game. The results showed, as he finished his junior season with 90 tackles, nine sacks, two fumbles caused and two fumbles recovered (one for a touchdown).
"Having your name out there definitely motivated me more because you are going to get keyed on and get more double teams," said O'Brien, who reports a bench press says he benches over 400pounds. "It's something that I have to deal with, so I have to play my heart out 150 percent of the time and my numbers and stock will keep rising."
As of now, O'Brien and Godin, ranked the 38th-best defensive end in the country by Scout.com, each share offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Syracuse, and have talked about possibly playing together in college.
"It's definitely a possibility, but we're going to chose what's best for ourselves," O'Brien said. "That's the way is should be."
O'Brien plans to take some official visits before he makes any decisions and possibly wait until after his senior season before committing.