Volume 92, Issue 31

Thursday, October 29, 1998

behind closed doors


Smooth but humble QB excels

©Michael Longstaff/Gazette

GOING DEEP. Michael O'Brien [12] has consistently thrown the long ball, something he hopes will continue this weekend as the Mustangs look to improve on their 7-0 record.

By Ian Ross

Gazette Staff

Michael O'Brien at a glance is a quiet, unassuming 22-year-old, just another student on Western's campus. His purple varsity football jacket and hint of a Clark Kent aura are the only things which set him apart.

There is another side of O'Brien's personality, however and it comes to the forefront every Saturday afternoon when the third-year geography student takes the field as the starting quarterback for the Mustang football team.

After taking the helm mid-way through last season over senior Oliver Curri, the third-year athlete has quickly developed into one of the top passers in the Canadian varsity circuit. He stands second in Ontario and is ranked nationally in the top 10 in passing with 1,420 yards. In addition he has recorded the province's best passing game of the season with 386 yards against McMaster Sept. 12.

Manipulating a deadly combination of quick thinking and incredible athleticism, O'Brien has become an invaluable asset to the top ranked team in the country.

Western head coach Larry Haylor was extremely pleased with the quick progress which O'Brien has made this season.

"I am delighted to have one of the top QBs in the conference, if not in the country," Haylor said. "And to think that he is just starting to realize his potential.

"He can run, throw and kick. He is a multi-multi-talented individual that still has four or five levels he can play at."

Moonlighting as the team's punter, O'Brien has also excelled. In seven games he has kicked for 1,723 yards with kicks averaging 41 yards – the best in the province.

O'Brien seems almost a little dazzled by the turn of events which has brought him into the national spotlight. It was 15 years ago that he first picked up a football to play in his home town of Grimsby, Ontario. He attributes that inspiration for the game largely to his parents who took him and his brother to countless Hamilton Tiger Cat games as young children.

"My parents say it started in the backyard when I would kick and throw the ball around," O'Brien recalled, on the first time he got his hands on a football. "I would throw it up and try to run and catch it."

He carried his love for the game to Denis Morris High School in St. Catharines and made the squad in grade 10 – taking over the pivot role half way through his second season.

Ironically, O'Brien would do the same thing four years later at Western.

"He has a great football mind. A real student of the game," O'Brien's high school coach Ed Siuciak said, of his former pupil.

As time passed, O'Brien sprouted up eight inches and filled into his taller frame with an intense work-out schedule. By his senior year, when he took his team to the city finals, coaches from across Canada were lining up to talk to the young superstar.

"It felt great," he recalled. "Every day I came home there was a letter in the mail for me. My confidence built a lot with those letters."

After following some fatherly advice, O'Brien made his choice to attend Western for the fall of 1996. Yet at the same time he refused to allow all of the attention and demand for his talents inflate his ego.

"There is no ego problem here," he said with a quiet voice. "That's the way my parents brought me up. I've seen friends like that. I look at them and think I don't want to be like that."

Haylor could not agree more.

"He's not a verbal, dramatic follow-me type guy," he said. "He's a lot more of a leader by actions. He's humble and not very comfortable in the limelight."

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998