The Province - Penn State QB O’Connor leaves Happy Valley huddle, transfer marks start of Nill’s UBC


VANCOUVER — Blake Nill is wasting no time in his attempt to turn the UBC Thunderbirds into a CIS football powerhouse.

The recently-hired Nill made a blockbuster signing on Thursday, announcing that the ‘Birds had successfully recruited one of the top quarterbacks in the entire 2014 NCAA Div. 1 signing class to come north to the Point Grey campus.

Michael O’Connor, a 6-foot-5, 230-point Ottawa native who was rated the No. 6 quarterback in ESPN’s 2014 ratings, and who spent this past season as a red-shirt at Penn State, has decided to begin his collegiate career in the CIS with the Thunderbirds.

“It helps give us instant recognition,” Nill said. “Right now, I think it’s a bigger story in the U.S. than it is in Canada. One of my sons sent me a tweet that came out of Syracuse that asked ‘How did our program get out-recruited by a program from Canada?’ But this is what our program needs to be successful, and also what it deserves.”

Quite clearly the signing illustrates the cohesion that Nill has been able to create with backers of the UBC football program, both in selling the merits of the program, the school, and the professional opportunities which could potentially exist upon graduation, to the top student-athletes.

O’Connor originally committed to Penn State to play for head coach Bill O’Brien, who wound up leaving the program before the 2014 season would begin to accept the head coaching position with the NFL’s Houston Texans. He was also being heavily recruited by Michigan State, Rutgers, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

“The day I got hired here, I knew Michael had left Penn State but I didn’t think we had much of a chance at him,” began Nill, who sensed the young quarterback’s initial caution. “But we brought him out, and UBC’s academic reputation was the traction we needed to convince him to have a look at the place. We had a number of people showcase the particular components to him, with a lot of help from alumni and administration, and he just bought in to the academic excellence and the vision we have for our football program.”

Nill, who kept both St. Mary’s and Calgary in the Vanier Cup national title game conversation every season before electing to come to UBC, also touched on the fact that he will have one of the nation’s most explosive young players at his disposal next season in Victoria running back/receiver Marcus Davis.

“We’re going to make Marcus a focal point of the offence,” Nill said. “Whether he gets his touches from out of the backfield in a jet sweep or is just going downfield to receive the ball, he needs to be the kind of athlete who touches the ball 20 to 25 times a game.”

Nill will get his UBC coaching career off to grand start, as he has scheduled the Thunderbirds to play a preseason game against perennial Vanier Cup contender Laval on Aug. 29 in Quebec City.

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