UBC Thunderbirds quarterback Michael O’Connor passes against the Montreal Carabins during first half football action at the Vanier Cup Saturday, November 28, 2015 in Quebec City. For Michael O’Connor, discussing his future is a distraction from his current goal, leading the University of B.C. Thunderbirds to another national championship. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Star B.C. quarterback avoiding distraction of potential pro football career

Michael O’Connor hopes to leade the University of B.C. Thunderbirds to another national championship

The only quarterback in the CFL’s fall scouting report doesn’t want to talk about the possibility of getting drafted to play professional football.

For Michael O’Connor, discussing his future is a distraction from his current goal — leading the University of B.C. Thunderbirds to another national championship.

“I’m just focused on the season,” said the Ottawa native. “I don’t want to let my teammates down. I feel like if I were to think beyond this season, I would be letting them down.”

O’Connor knows there’s talk that he could get picked to play either in the CFL or even the NFL. He knows he was ranked 20th overall in the CFL’s fall scouting report. He knows how rare Canadian quarterbacks are.

He just isn’t ready to think about what could happen when he’s done playing university football.

“I’m honest when I say I really haven’t thought about it,” said the 22 year old. “I just want to be all-in with my team and try to do everything and try to get this team back to where we were a couple of years ago.”

O’Connor has already had a taste of national glory, getting to the Vanier Cup in 2015, his first year with the team.

Expectations for the T-Birds were low that year, said UBC’s head coach Blake Nill.

It was Nill’s first season with the team, too, and he’d previously racked up a series of lopsided victories over UBC during his nine years coaching at the University of Calgary. He came to Vancouver wanting to recruit big talent, but didn’t have high hopes for winning immediately.

“I was mentally prepared just to play young athletes and try to turn the culture around,” he said.

When the coach heard O’Connor was looking to transfer from Pennsylvania State University, Nill reached out. He didn’t think the star athlete would be interested in signing because of interest from U.S. schools, but he wanted to show that UBC was “going to go after the best.”

O’Connor visited the picturesque Vancouver campus on a February weekend where the temperature reached 20 C and found an opportunity to build something special.

“Everything was sort of starting fresh, so I thought it would be pretty neat to be part of that process and kind of change the culture here,” he said.

Despite low expectations, the T-Birds beat Montreal 26-23 to capture the national championship. O’Connor was named MVP after passing for 389 yards and a touchdown.

Since then, he’s continued to grow both as a player and as a leader, Nill said.

He’s also finished a degree at UBC’s competitive Sauder School of Business and the coach called O’Connor “a deep thinker, a very composed young man.”

In 2017, O’Connor threw for 2,308 yards with a 67.5 per cent pass completion rate and 14 touchdowns. And he’s started off 2018 strong, putting up 515 yards in UBC’s first two games.

During Friday night’s match in Calgary, the quarterback struggled to find an open receiver, but spotted a path to the endzone. O’Connor sprinted the 25 yards himself, scoring B.C.’s only touchdown of the night. The T-Birds lost 57-7.

Now in his fourth year with UBC, O’Connor is eligible to play into 2019, but Nill isn’t expecting him to.

“We’re preparing for life without Mike O’Connor right now,” the coach said. ”Of course, if we got him back, that would be incredible.”

He thinks O’Connor will be drafted into the pros, but whether he goes to an NFL or CFL team remains unclear.

Playing in Canada would come with unique pressures, given the relative rarity of Canadian quarterbacks, Nill said.

“I believe it’s something the CFL needs to increase fan interest,” he said. “And I think the league in general is looking at a few guys, and especially Mike O’Connor, as an opportunity. And they’re going to do everything they can to secure his services for the good of the entire league.”

The young man can “for sure” handle the pressure, he added.

Being a role model for young athletes is a position O’Connor said he would welcome.

“I’d love to be a hope for other Canadian quarterbacks that are in high school right now or even younger, to show them that it’s possible for them to play at the next level, too. That it’s not just for the other position groups,” he said.

Right now, though, his focus is on the rest of his U Sports career, including the T-Birds’ matchup against the University of Regina Rams on Friday.

“In a sense, I just see myself as a quarterback like any other quarterback,” he said. “And I think that my play will speak for itself. If I’m good enough, I’ll play at the next level and if not, I won’t.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Rossland council agrees to finish skateboard park

Will cost taxpayers about $30,000 to complete project

Core funding to boost spending on tourism services for Rossland

Resort Municipalities grants will pay for a public washroom, better signage, and shuttle services

Passenger counts still rising at West Kootenay Regional Airport

Reliability rates also on rise in second quarter.

Third cannabis store in Greater Trail opens next week

The City of Trail has had six applications from non-medical pot retailers to date

Last stop: The inside story of Queen City Shuttle and Charters’ closure

Former employees open up about the Nelson company’s final days

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

Canadian high school science courses behind on climate change, says UBC study

Researchers found performance on key areas varies by province and territory

Six inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

The 26th ceremony in Penticton welcomed powerful figures both from on and off the ice

RCMP investigate two shootings in the Lower Mainland

Incidents happened in Surrey, with a victim being treated at Langley Memorial Hospital

CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

Extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics to operate year-round

Recall: Certain Pacific oysters may pose threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning

Consumers urged to either return affected packages or throw them out

How a Kamloops-born man helped put us on the moon

Jim Chamberlin did troubleshooting for the Apollo program, which led to its success

Sexual harassment complaints soaring amid ‘frat boy culture’ in Canada’s airline industry

‘It’s a #MeToo dumpster fire…and it’s exhausting for survivors’

Most Read