With just one season of eligibility remaining, O’Brien investigated his opportunities. Friedgen helped his former player navigate complicated NCAA channels and file a waiver request to play his senior season at Towson, one step down from Maryland and Wisconsin. The request was denied, and his search began to focus closer to home. Catawba had a new coaching staff and was in need of someone under center.
“When you’re trying to build a program, you’re looking for specifics,” said Curtis Walker, the Indians’ first-year coach. “How will he fit in? Is he a leader? What does he bring? We talked, and I realized he fit everything we’re looking for: leadership qualities, knowledge of the game and all the intangibles that we can mold our team around.”
O’Brien, who is six credits shy of his master’s degree, knew he needed a friendly home. He hasn’t given up on his hopes to play in the NFL, and Friedgen stressed to him that all the impressive game film from 2010 would be more than three years old by the time NFL scouts began studying next year’s draft class.
“I just wanted to find somewhere with a good nucleus of players, staff that believed in me and that I believed in and that ran an offensive system that I felt like I could thrive in,” O’Brien said. “Catawba fit all three of those things.”
He'll be playing in a pro-style offense with elements of a West Coast system. He’ll be operating no-huddle out of the shotgun, relying on timing routes, quick decisions and bubble screens to stretch and confuse defenses.
“I can make every throw a quarterback needs to make. I can make the right reads. I can get the ball out of my hand fast," he said. “I’ll have 12-plus more games to show people, ‘Here’s what I can do.’
“Honestly, I’m playing the best football of my life right now. I’m making throws I never could’ve made my freshman year. The game is way slower. The ups and downs have led to that, but I feel a lot more mature as a person, as well as a leader.”
On Aug. 13, O’Brien reported to the modest facilities at Catawba, where the weight room is under construction. He had been studying the Indians’ roster online, trying to memorize names and faces. It was a long week of introductions, but O’Brien hopes the four months that follow will leave a lasting impression in Salisbury and beyond.