KERNERSVILLE, N.C. — Danny O’Brien isn’t a household football name to the casual fan, but it sounds as if he has plenty of fans in the right places to help his interests.
O’Brien, a former standout quarterback at East Forsyth High School, had an odyssey of a college career on a path from Maryland, to Wisconsin, to Catawba. He’s hoping the next leg of his journey will lead to the NFL sometime this weekend.
Gary Shipman, a Wilmington-based lawyer and O’Brien’s agent, is convinced that it’s not a matter of if but rather when a team will select O’Brien during the seven-round NFL Draft, which runs from today through Saturday, or sign him as an undrafted free agent.
“I would say based upon where he ended up, from where he started, others might be surprised, but there are at least a dozen teams that have expressed interest,” Shipman said Wednesday. “Out of every quarterback in this draft, he is as or more athletic than any of them, and his football IQ is on top of anyone in the draft.”
Sharp enough to graduate from Maryland with a degree in business management in only three years, O’Brien said last week that he isn’t holding his breath to hear his name called during the draft.
But with combine numbers that stack up well against those of the highest ranked quarterbacks in the draft and the ability to have successfully digested five offensive systems in college, O’Brien is confident he will get a shot at the NFL, one way or another.
“I have approached it to have fun with it,” O’Brien said last week at his family home in Kernersville. “It’s been a blast getting to meet some really good coaches, great scouts, and continuing to learn the game and watch film.
“I have always been one to like the unknown. I don’t know where I will be in a month, and it will be exciting. Hopefully, I’ll pick up with a team and make it a longer chapter. We will see.”
O’Brien, now a strapping 6-3 and 220 pounds, looked like a sure-fire NFL quarterback in 2010 when, as a redshirt freshman at Maryland, he won the starting job, passed for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns and was named the ACC’s rookie of the year.
Coaching changes — first at Maryland and then at Wisconsin — altered O’Brien’s path. He left Maryland in the spring of 2012 after one season under Randy Edsall, who had replaced Ralph Friedgen, the coach who recruited him and made him a starter.
He left Wisconsin after one season when Bret Bielema left to become the coach at Arkansas.
He landed at Catawba, and made a large impression on Kevin Brown, Catawba’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Brown had coached Tyler Thigpen — a quarterback going into his eighth NFL season — at Coastal Carolina.
“Even though he was here a short time, he left a big impression on our guys,” Brown said. “And once he gets into a pro system, I think he will thrive. He taught us as coaches, too. Danny is by far the most knowledgeable kid about football, and I think that translates to the NFL. And on top of that is his work ethic. He’s second to none in how he prepares.”
O’Brien worked out at D1 — a state-of-the-art training facility in Nashville, Tenn. — over the winter in a program that preps players for NFL combines. He worked in front of scouts at Wake Forest’s pro day in March. He attended an NFL regional combine in Indianapolis last month, and from there, was invited to the Super Regional Combine in Detroit.
In those performances, O’Brien put together solid numbers. He was timed at 4.7 seconds over 40 yards and 4.01 seconds in the short shuttle. He also was measured at 9 feet, 9 inches in the broad jump and 37 inches in the vertical jump.
“You compare my numbers to others in the combines, and they were in the top three,” O’Brien said, then added with a smile: “And I used to be a pocket guy.”
Shipman said although it’s unlikely O’Brien will be drafted, it’s not out of the question.
“Danny O’Brien is ready to play now,” Shipman said. “You could hand him the keys to the car today, and he could drive it and keep it between the lines. No pro team would be at risk of handing Danny the keys. His maturity, the number of offensive schemes he has had exposure to….
“Given the sheer number of teams interested in having him in their camp, there will be many teams disappointed if he is not on their squad, and there will be many teams that regret. Could that mean that based on impulse as the draft winds down on Saturday teams might be fearful they won’t get him?
“Free agents go where their hearts tell them to go. I think it’s possible that some teams will not be willing to risk that he signs with someone else.”