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SOUTHFIELD, Mich.: One of the names creating the greatest buzz at Wednesday's session of the Sound Mind Sound Body Camp near Detroit was that of quarterback Michael O'Connor.
At first glance it may not surprise that the 6-foot-5, 205-pound quarterback would be the focus of the dozens of college coaches in attendance, but O'Connor's story is far from ordinary.
Although he was one of the biggest quarterbacks in attendance and displayed some of the sharpest mechanics at the camp, O'Connor still has three years of high school remaining. College coaches were mesmerized by the big kid with the quick release making beautiful throw after beautiful throw, and yet he still has not begun his sophomore year of high school.
But the features that make O'Connor's story unique do not end there, because the sophomore-to-be comes from one of the least recruited places in North America -- Ottawa, Canada.
O'Connor started every game last fall for Ashbury College, located in Canada's capital city, leading his prep team to a perfect record by completing 51 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions in only eight games. Canadian football differs from American football in that the field is 120 yards long instead of 100 and is 60 yards wide compared to the 53 1/3-yard width of a standard American field.
There has been a slight adjustment for O'Connor making the transition from Canadian to American football, but he has acclimated himself extremely well in various camps this offseason. He led a Canadian team in the NLA 7-on-7 in Pittsburgh in April against some of the top 7-on-7 teams in the Midwest and East Coast. He also stood toe-to-toe with top talent at the Elite 11 regional in Columbus last month.
Wednesday's outing at the Sound Mind Sound Body Camp was another strong showing from the young Canadian and gave him a chance to compete alongside one of the class of 2013's top signal-callers.
"I came down here as a class of 2015 player and threw alongside (Rivals100 quarterback) Shane Morris this morning," O'Connor said. "I felt that I am right up there with him and am not that far behind."
To become the player he feels he can be, and college coaches project he can be, O'Connor realized some time back he will have to make sacrifices. While young quarterbacks in the States often work with personal quarterback coaches or have well-schooled high school coaches to refine their mechanics, O'Connor is entirely self-taught.
"I am always on YouTube trying to find the next good quarterback clip," O'Connor said. "You can find so many good clips of NFL quarterbacks and everything they do, and I just try to model my game after them. All the drills they do, I do too."
Some of O'Connor's favorite quarterbacks to watch and emulate are Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Mark Sanchez. Finding others to help him work on the drills he learns from those NFL greats, however, is not always easy.
"Football in Canada is not really that serious, so I am usually by myself working on footwork," O'Connor said. "Footwork is the most important thing for a quarterback and you can do it by yourself, so whenever I get free time that is what I am most focused on."
In order to take the next step in his game, though, O'Connor was looking for an opportunity to surround himself with other like-minded young football players as well as top coaches. The answer, in O'Connor's mind, was obvious, but certainly not an easy one to fulfill.
After discussions with his family and other mentors in his life, O'Connor made the decision to leave his home in Ottawa and transfer to a school in the States. He looked at opportunities in several states, and eventually decided he would move to Chattanooga, Tenn., to attend the Baylor School.
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"The first priority was academics and Baylor School has very good academics, so that wasn't a concern," O'Connor said. "From the football standpoint, they have a good football program and I'm just excited to get into a program, be able to train there with them, have a good season and show everyone I can play with Americans."
Not only will O'Connor go through a culture change in moving from his home in Canada to the American south, but he will be doing it alone. He will board at the Baylor School while his family remains behind in Ottawa.
"My thought is that no one is ever ready to leave home, but going to an American University, I would have to leave home someday," O'Connor said. "I thought if I could get through it for the next few years and get that over with, when I go to a university I can just focus on football and won't have to worry about all the stuff with moving away from home because I'll already be adjusted."
O'Connor is not waiting to get the next chapter in his life underway. This coming weekend will be his last in Ottawa before he makes the move to Tennessee. College coaches from Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Michigan and Michigan State have requested that he attend their camps this month, and trips to those schools are being planned as part of his immersion into the United States' high school football scene.
O'Connor just recently celebrated his 16th birthday. His poise, his talent and his technical understanding of the quarterback position belie his age, but maybe most impressive is the maturity and dedication he has shown in pursuing his goals. Most his age play the game of football. Michael O'Connor is living it.
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