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

New report on 2017 wildfires calls for better coordination with First Nations

Tsilhqot’in National Government documents 2017 disaster and lists 33 calls to action

BC Bus North service extended to September

Transportation ministers have extended the service, which was set to expire at the end of May

Annual 100 Mile House Easter Egg Hunt a great success

Around 200 kids showed up to scavenge for chocolate

Woman dies after suffering ‘medical event’ while driving north of Lac la Hache

Initial report was that an older female had driven into the side of a hill, was not responsive

Cariboo Women’s Fair returns with new organizer

The sixth annual event will take place on May 3 and 4 at the South Cariboo Recreation Centre

VIDEO: Driver in bizarre hit-and-run at B.C. car dealership turns herself in

Police believe alcohol was a factor in incident causing estimated $15,000 in damages

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

B.C. woman, 76, challenges alcohol-screening laws after failing to give breath sample

Norma McLeod was unable to provide a sample because of her medical conditions

B.C. youth coach banned amid sexual harassment, bullying scandal: Water Polo Canada

Justin Mitchell can’t take part in Water Polo Canada events or clubs

Wilson-Raybould: Feds want to just ‘manage the problem’ of Indigenous Peoples

Former federal justice minister speaks at First Nations Justice Council meeting in B.C.

Haida youth travels to New York for UN forum on Indigenous issues

Haana Edensaw presented her speech in Xaad Kil, Masset dialect of the Haida language

Female real estate agents warned of suspicious man in Metro Vancouver

The man requests to see homes alone with the female agent, police say

Can you put your phone down for Mother’s Day?

#DiningMode campaign encourages people to leave the phone alone while eating

Horgan heckled as gas prices sit at record high, could go up more

Premier John Horgan blames refiners, not taxes

Most Read