Michael O’Connor is the next Canadian quarterback who could rise to pro stardom.
O’Connor is front and centre at the 2018 USports East-West Bowl in Quebec City, the top showcase event in front of scouts from CFL and even NFL teams for the next draft class of Canadian university football players. He came back from the NCAA – Penn State University – to win a Vanier Cup with UBC in his first year back in Canada.
“O’Connor has size and once pro coaches get a hold of him he could really improve,” a scout said.
The Ottawa native has prototypical quarterback size: six-foot-five, 225 pounds. O’Connor threw 51 touchdown passes in Grade 10 at Ashbury College, attended Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee and moved on to play at IMG Academy in Florida under the tutelage of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke, leading them to an 8-2 record in 2013 throwing for 1,804 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 games. He was the No. 6 ranked high school quarterback by ESPN and played in the Under Armour All-American Game, the only Canadian prospect to be invited that year.
Strong play wherever O’Connor suited up earned him a scholarship to Penn State. Bill O’Brien, who spent time as Tom Brady’s quarterback’s coach and offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, recruited O’Connor and wanted him to play in his pro-style offence. But before O’Connor arrived on campus, O’Brien left the Nittany Lions to accept the Houston Texans head coaching job.
James Franklin took over as head coach and Christian Hackenberg was the starter until he was picked in the second round by the New York Jets in the 2016 NFL draft. Despite O’Connor going 11-for-16 for 81 yards in Penn State’s spring game, he redshirted in 2014 and then transferred to the University of British Columbia. Year one with the Thunderbirds saw O’Connor light up defences while leading the team to a National Championship in 2015.
“Good size, tough and stands in there, poised and calm, he can move around in the pocket and create with his feet. He could still improve his arm strength. Draftable quarterback prospect,” a football executive said.
“He’s just as good as some third-string quarterbacks in our league,” a CFL assistant general manager said.
2019 is O’Connor’s draft year on both sides of the border, so he has another season to develop at the university level. Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon believes O’Connor could play in the NFL. Jesse Palmer, an Ottawa native like O’Connor, remains the last Canadian quarterback to be drafted into the NFL and throw a pass in a regular season game.
With the draft process about to begin in earnest at the East-West this week, the scrutiny of being the next Canadian quarterback hope means all eyes will be on O’Connor. But it will ultimately be his on-field performance that will determine his football future.