Andy Baggot: O'Brien hardly too cool for school

2012-04-02T06:30:00Z 2012-05-31T01:05:31Z Andy Baggot: O'Brien hardly too cool for schoolANDY BAGGOT | Wisconsin State Journal | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

The text message from Danny O'Brien over the weekend was short, sweet and crammed with humility.

How does one obtain a college degree in three years all while playing a major role in an ultra-demanding sport?

"Nothing special," he wrote. "Just work and focus."

When it was announced last week that O'Brien is transferring from Maryland to the University of Wisconsin, the initial line of questioning for the award-winning quarterback focused on football, and understandably so.

O'Brien was a starting quarterback for the Terrapins whose arrival addresses a major need for UW in its quest to win a third straight Big Ten Conference title. Numerous parallels to the wildly entertaining Russell Wilson saga gave the story a national headline.

What caught my eye, though, was the fairly astounding detail that O'Brien will get his diploma in mid-May after only three years at Maryland. Not only can he play immediately for the Badgers while he attends graduate school, he has two seasons of athletic eligibility to work with.

I know lots of UW student-athletes who got their diplomas in four years, but not three. So what's up with this guy that he was able to knock off 120 credits in such a short time while maintaining a 3.0 grade point average?

During a telephone conversation, O'Brien shot down most of my assumptions. He doesn't have a photographic memory. He doesn't carry a Mensa card. He's not an academic savant.

"No super powers," he laughed.

What about a social life? Between textbooks and playbooks, O'Brien couldn't have much time for anything leisurely, right?

Wrong.

"I'd be lying if I said I was slaving away the whole time," he said.

Still it's hard not to be impressed with what O'Brien has done in this process, which has its roots in his days at East

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Forsyth High School in Kernersville, N.C. He got a big head start there because he took advanced placement classes in calculus, science, geography, English, chemistry and history that gave him 18 credits toward college. That's a full semester out of the way before he ever showed up on the College Park campus.

In addition to averaging 14 to 15 credits per semester, O'Brien attended summer school every year and took advantage of a winter course whereby he attended a three-credit class during the break between the fall and spring semesters.

That's how O'Brien got to visit Australia. One of his business professors conducted a three-week international business class there and O'Brien, with some financial help from his parents, took part.

O'Brien obviously made good use of his time, especially during the football season. Between 7 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. he attended class, practiced and studied.

"It was a long day, but you're always busy — always doing something — which I like," he said. "As long as I stayed on top of it, I didn't find it to be too overwhelming."

O'Brien got the idea of graduating early after his second year at Maryland. That's when he sat down with his business school adviser and embraced the financial value of his five-year tender.

"I really wanted to get it done in three to have the opportunity to complete any grad program I wanted to while still on scholarship," O'Brien said. "I didn't realize it would be this beneficial."

O'Brien could not have anticipated there would be a coaching change — from Ralph Friedgen to Randy Edsall — as well as a switch from a pro-style offense to the spread for which he was ill-suited.

"It's not like I came here thinking, `I'm going to graduate in three years and transfer,'" O'Brien said. "It just kind of aligned up perfectly for this."

O'Brien is the perfect illustration for way this transfer rule should stay on the NCAA books and why UW coach Bret Bielema should never apologize for reaching out to guys like him. O'Brien and Wilson lived up to their obligations as students, which gave them options as athletes.

"I'm definitely glad I did it," O'Brien said.

Contact Andy Baggot at abaggot@madison.com or 608-252-6175.

Copyright 2014 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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