No question about it that Maryland is a basketball town. Walk into Bentleys on Baltimore Street and look at the walls, the number of Maryland basketball jerseys and banners far outweigh the achievements of its football team.
More surprising than that is the attire of the student body packed into one of just the approximate four bars on this campus – not one Terrapin t-shirt, hat or any piece of Maryland athletic paraphernalia. No, the group of students coming in to celebrate the end of the finals consisted of looks that would fit right in at a night club, a day on the lake or another remake of Dukes of Hazard.
Former quarterback Danny O'Brien is just one of the people in the packed downtown bar here able to blend it with the crowd that appears to take the word ‘offseason' literally. He won't get the luxury when he moves to passionate sports town of Madison and certainly won't get that privacy if he starts winning football games for the University of Wisconsin.
"I feel rejuvenated to close this chapter and start another," said O'Brien, a look of relief and excitement enveloping his face. "It's refreshing. It's exciting and I have a lot to prove all over again. That's got me really excited to play in front of a new atmosphere, great fan base and everything, so I am really excited for the opportunity."
O'Brien is the second Wisconsin quarterback to make offseason to make national waves following the headlines last year former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson generated by utilizing the NCAA graduate transfer rule. Wilson chose Wisconsin over Auburn in late June and the results worked out favorably for the Badgers.
Wilson - the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year - led the Badgers to an 11-3 record, a second-straight Big Ten title and a second-consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl, setting the NCAA single-season record for pass efficiency (191.8) while also setting school marks for passing yards (3,175), touchdown passes (33), completions (225) and yards of total offense (3,513) in the process.
O'Brien was Maryland's quarterback of the future two years ago - earning FWAA Freshman All-America honors and ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 - after throwing for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 starts. He finished the season ranked fourth in the league in pass efficiency and led Maryland to a 9-4 record and a win over East Carolina in the Military Bowl.
But last season was a disaster. Former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall replaced ousted coach Ralph Friedgen, changed the Terps from a pro-style offense to a spread attack and O'Brien missed half his season with a broken bone in his non-throwing arm.
Edsall made questionable coaching decision, irritated the upperclassmen and erased all the positive strides the program made just one season ago. Wanting a fresh start in an offense he is comfortable in, O'Brien took advantage of the heavily debated rule that allows college athletes who have earned their diploma to transfer to another Division 1 school and not have to sit out one season.
"That's something that I can't control," he said. "I didn't come here (Maryland) thinking I was going to transfer. That didn't pop up in my life until recently. It is what it is, and it allows me a great opportunity not to sit out."
That led O'Brien to commit to Wisconsin over Penn State on March 28, much to the delight of his extended family and himself. Although he played his prep football in Kernersville, NC, O'Brien was born in Minnesota and members of his extended family still live in the Twin Cities. They have already scooped up tickets and booked hotel rooms for home Wisconsin football games.
Combined with his father going to Notre Dame, Midwest values and Big Ten football ruled the household. It was the same Midwest values he saw when he sat down with members of the Wisconsin football team on his official visit – getting their honest views of the program, the new coaches and what it's like being a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.
"I was blessed to have several great opportunities at other schools, but the vibe I got at Wisconsin was special," O'Brien said. "Being with the players on the team, the coaching staff, the supporting staff, the campus and the city was everything I was looking for going into this process. That's really what did it for me."
Having gone through the coaching overhaul last season, O'Brien admits to learning plenty of positives from the unsuccessful transition, mainly that every coach is a little bit different and that the process of learning a new offense is a patience one.
That's the main reason he's so excited to get to campus later this month and start learning the integral parts of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada's attack on film. Introduced to the benefits of film study by his high school coach, O'Brien, like Wilson, calls himself a ‘film junkie,' loving the process of preparing for teams because he loved being around the game.
"I take a lot of pride in being very prepared," said O'Brien. "I definitely like working out of the pocket. I have a little bit of mobility. I really pride myself on being accurate with the ball and get the ball into the hands of the playmakers, which Wisconsin has a lot of.
"The offense is going to be Wisconsin football. I do think it fits what I do well, like what we did in Maryland two years ago in the pro-style look."
O'Brien is partaking in the graduation ceremony today to appease his mom and be at Wisconsin on June 1. More importantly, his broken left non-throwing arm – which did not require surgery - has been 100 percent healed.
"I got lucky," said O'Brien. "I am stronger than ever now."
And so is the Wisconsin football team – getting an experienced, confident quarterback that is ready to lead a team into a new year with a calm, cool demeanor.
"You love to have those high expectations and win like that, but I am not going to try and swallow that all at once," O'Brien said. "I want to first learn the playbook, work hard to get through camp and Northern Iowa is up first. That's how you have to approach the season – not what you are going to do all at once but a game-at-a-time approach.
"That allows you to keep track of the short-term goals, and I am excited to start that journey."
to read more about O'Brien, pick up the summer issue of Badger Nation Magazine