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San Juan Hills' O'Brien has grown into a top recruit
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – He played linebacker on a Pop Warner team that featured two quarterbacks who would gain notoriety well before him.
He picked a high school football program that went 0-10 the season before his arrival.
And as a 6-foot, 170-pound freshman with aspirations to play quarterback, his resume included no game experience at the position.
Meet Patrick O’Brien, the player many might have missed during his early years at San Juan Hills and as an eighth-grader on a star-studded Pop Warner team.
“No one knew who I was coming in (to high school),” O’Brien recalled. “I wasn’t a big kind of (prospect).”
He is today. He is now a 6-4, 225-pound junior quarterback, a sizzling Orange County recruit and an intriguing player to watch this fall.
Since the end of last season, O’Brien has taken the reins of one of the best 7-on-7 passing teams in the nation, upstaged better-known recruits at an elite Nike camp and collected scholarship offers from Nebraska, Colorado, Colorado State, Tech Texas and most recently, UNLV.
Excuse O’Brien if he can’t recall the dates of all these events. He has been busy sharpening his craft at tournaments and traveling with his 7-on-7 team.
“I think he throws it as good as anyone in the 2016 class,” San Juan Hills coach Aaron Flowers said.
O’Brien’s offseason work will keep him close to home this weekend. On Saturday , San Juan Hills will play host to its second annual Gunslinger Passing Tournament, one of the first major passing events of the spring and summer.
For O’Brien, it will be a welcomed assignment to play powerhouses such as JSerra and Mater Dei in pool play. His under-the-radar story parallels the journey of his Stallions, who also are looking to emerge from the south county football shadows.
“(We’re) a new school and we haven’t won a CIF championship or anything like that – yet,” O’Brien said.
“This year is going to be a big year for us. I feel we got a lot of good guys coming back, really talented team.”
O’Brien’s passion for San Juan Hills runs deep and traces back to Flowers, who took over the Stallions program the year before O’Brien arrived.
“I got to give a lot of credit to him,” O’Brien said of Flowers, a former quarterback at Cal State Northridge, L.A. Valley College and Artesia. “He taught me so much.”
O’Brien grew up participating in several sports, including football, baseball, basketball and swimming. His father, Paul, swam in college and his mother, Anna, played volleyball for the Swedish national team.
O’Brien’s favorite sport growing up was baseball. He played on several travel teams, often filling strong-arm positions such as pitcher, catcher and right field.
As an eighth-grader, he played linebacker on a Saddleback Valley Wolverines Pop Warner team that featured Tesoro quarterback Devon Modster and Santa Margarita quarterback KJ Costello.
It was around that time O’Brien began thinking about switching to quarterback. His neighborhood friend, ex-St. Margaret’s quarterback Josh Davis (now at Lafayette), encouraged him to train with his private passing coach, Steve Calhoun, and O’Brien took the advice.
O’Brien said one of the reasons he picked his hometown school of San Juan Hills was the freedom to play football and baseball. He played quarterback for the first time as a freshman and after his first spring of baseball, decided to focus solely on football.
“I didn’t really have the love for (baseball) anymore,” O’Brien said.
Flowers had already noticed O’Brien’s potential and the results soon surfaced. As a first-year starter last season, he completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,093 yards and 12 TDs to help the Stallions (4-7) reach the CIF-SS West Valley playoffs as an at-large team from the South Coast League.
“He has developed at much faster rate than most quarterbacks,” Flowers said. “He has really committed himself since his freshman year.”
O’Brien entered this offseason with big plans. After watching B2G’s 7-on-7 team play on television, he set out to play this spring for the adidas-sponsored club from Los Angeles.
O’Brien wasn’t the only quarterback with that idea. He estimates that he beat out about 45 passers in March to become the quarterback on B2G’s 5-Star team. The squad has been a juggernaut on the 7-on-7 circuit this spring with O’Brien zipping passes to touted receivers such as Centennial of Corona’s Javon McKinley and Joseph Lewis of Hawkins of Los Angeles. La Habra’s heavily recruited Jake Colacion is a linebacker for the team.
“I knew who was on the team and thought, ‘This is going to be amazing,’” O’Brien said.
But O’Brien’s recruiting profile certainly changed after the Nike Football Opening Regional in early March in Redondo Beach. The pocket-passer with good mobility earned quarterback MVP honors from a field that included Modster and Costello, who committed earlier this spring to Arizona and Stanford, respectively.
“That (camp) kind of jump-started my recruiting a lot,” said O’Brien, who received his first offer – from Nebraska – shortly after the camp. “(Camp counselor Trent) Dilfer liked me, so it was a good day.”
Yes, the once overlooked player is now a can’t-miss-kid. The 17-year-old, however, remains unchanged, especially with his loyalty to San Juan Hills and Flowers.
“I represent where I’m from,” O’Brien said. “This is probably the best decision I’ve ever made to come here.”
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