UW football: High school coach says O'Brien chose UW out of love of football

2012-03-28T18:15:00Z 2012-03-29T20:30:28Z UW football: High school coach says O'Brien chose UW out of love of footballTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

When former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien was making the rounds last week, deciding on which school he wanted to transfer, suitors wanted to show him all of the best things their programs and cities had to offer.

But all O'Brien really wanted to see was the film room.

"I told these coaches, the most important thing to do is sit down and talk football with him," said Todd Willert, who was O'Brien's high school coach at East Forsyth in Kernersville, N.C.

"He will keep you in that office all day, on those Saturdays, when he went on visits. You'd be in there six or seven hours. That's what he wanted to do, he wanted to learn football. He was glad to see the stadiums and all of the things around the towns, but it was about football. That's just the kind of guy he is."

That's ultimately why O'Brien chose the University of Wisconsin over Penn State and Vanderbilt. He felt comfortable with UW and his new teammates. He spoke highly of UW coach Bret Bielema to Willert.

In the end, however, after lengthy discussions with new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, O'Brien really liked the way he fit the Badgers' offense.

"Obviously, he chose where he felt the offense fit him best," Willert said. "He had some other SEC schools that were looking at him, where he just felt that offense didn't fit him.

"He's very excited. Back in high school, we ran a lot of play-action. We handed the ball off a lot. He'll fit in great with that offense. He really liked the scheme, sitting down with coach Canada and seeing what they were planning on running. Danny felt very comfortable with the offense they'll be running under coach Canada."

O'Brien is the second high-profile quarterback to transfer to the Badgers in two seasons and take advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players who have graduated not to have to sit out a year. He will have two years of eligibility remaining.

The Badgers took advantage of the rule last season with much success. Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina State and led UW to the Rose Bowl, setting several single-season school passing records.

"Russell is a great quarterback, but they are two different types of quarterbacks," Willert said. "Russell, obviously, is a lot more of an athlete than Danny. There's no ifs, ands or buts about that.

"I think Danny, being a student of the game, that will help him. That makes up for some of the athleticism he doesn't have. He's so smart, he studies film, he'll know everything about the opponents. The first thing he'll be trying to do is watch film and get ready for those first games right away."

O'Brien, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, was the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year as a redshirt freshman in 2010. He had a 7-3 record as a starter and threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdown passes. He threw only eight interceptions in 337 pass attempts and ranked fourth in the conference in passing efficiency (134.5)

But coach Ralph Friedgen was fired after 10 seasons and offensive coordinator James Franklin left to become the coach at Vanderbilt. Randy Edsall became the Terrapins' new coach and brought in Gary Crowton as the offensive coordinator.

Crowton installed a spread offense and the results were disastrous. He was run off after one season as the Terrapins finished 2-10.

O'Brien threw for 1,648 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. His passer rating dipped to 109.6 and he lost his starting job.

"He didn't fit in that type of offense," Willert said. "The main reason he went to Maryland was to run the offense that coach James Franklin ran, obviously, and that's what he thrived so much in that redshirt freshman year.

"I'm not saying anything bad about Maryland, but if that had been the offense when Danny was getting recruited, he would have never went to Maryland. He's just not a zone-read type of guy. There's no doubt, he was never comfortable all last year."

That's why finding an offense he was comfortable in was so important during the recruiting process.

"The main thing (the Badgers) will get out of him, in this form of an offense, he'll be very stable," Willert said. "He's the smartest player I've ever coached in my life when it comes to football.

"They'll get a pure dropback quarterback, a pro-style guy that can throw the ball pretty good, too. They're getting quite a bit."

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