Canadian QB Michael O’Connor’s combine performance opens eyes and opportunities

Canadian quarterback Michael O’Connor had a plan coming into the CFL combine.

And it worked.

“I came in here with a mission to show the teams a little bit more of my personality and how much I’m passionate about football, my football IQ and the type of person that I am,” O’Connor said. “I think I really did that, teams got to know me better on a more personal level, so that was a success.”

O’Connor interviewed with six teams, the most ever by a quarterback at the national event. Top prospects who are ticketed for the first round usually meet with all the clubs at the combine and the fact two-thirds of the league’s franchises booked O’Connor indicates a strong level of interest.

“I got the sense that they were treating me just as a quarterback. The way I view it, because the quarterback position is really not nationalized in any manner, so I kind of feel like an American in a Canadian draft and that’s just strictly based off the CFL rules. It’s kind of a weird position to be in for myself and the teams as well,” O’Connor said.

“They were all a little bit different, some questions about my personal life, my family, where I was raised, how I grew up, my journey down south, why I chose to leave Penn State, why I picked UBC, those were big topics. Basically just seeing what motivates me and if I’m really committed to football.”

Football executives were curious to find out why O’Connor chose to transfer from Penn State University to the University of British Columbia instead of accepting other NCAA Division I scholarship offers. 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 at Penn State. But before O’Connor arrived on campus, O’Brien left the Nittany Lions to accept the Houston Texans head coaching job.

“They couldn’t really wrap their minds around that, but I just tried to explain to them what really happened, what my decision was at the time,” O’Connor said.

“I’m just trying to get across to them that I’m committed to the game of football and going through hardship in the past, especially at Penn State, up and downs having time to reflect on that four or five years later, I’m very grateful for that experience and it showed me if I can get through that, I can get through anything.”

As CFL scouts dig into O’Connor, there is a growing belief he could earn a roster spot and even be a backup quarterback in the league from the jump. Some teams wanted to put O’Connor’s football knowledge to the test, discussing X’s and O’s and getting the six-foot-four, 225-pounder passer on the whiteboard.

“Speaking with Coach [Jason] Mass with the Eskimos we talked at length about what the Eskimos run on offence and what we were running at UBC last year. That was a great conversation getting into his world and letting him see what we were doing,” O’Connor said.

“Hamilton had me draw up a couple plays, some from them, some from what I ran at UBC. Coach [Dave] Dickenson at Calgary we were talking about protections. It scanned the whole spectrum, a mix of football.”

Seeing O’Connor live at his current stage had CFL teams buzzing about prototypical quarterback size and special arm talent. There are going to be NFL scouts who look at O’Connor just because of his frame and the connection to O’Brien; the Ottawa native won’t be an unknown in NFL circles.

There are NFL teams confirmed to attend O’Connor’s pro day at UBC in April. O’Connor’s background in four-down football had teams wondering where the next step in his career might lead. One general manager asked O’Connor if he was committed to the CFL with the Alliance of American Football kicking-off in February and the XFL on its way.

“Expect the unexpected in this process. I really haven’t thought about that at all. Just letting them know that football is my No. 1 focus right now and it’s what I’m putting all my energy behind,” O’Connor said.

“I was more concerned about throwing. I thought I threw the ball well, obviously some I want back, but shoot, I think I showed the CFL scouts that I can play at the next level. I have the requisite arm strength, can make all the throws.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.