I wanted to share some of my conversation this week with Ian Thompson, who is one of Danny O’Brien’s best friends. Thompson, now a tight end at Louisiana-Lafayette, played with O’Brien from Pop Warner days in the sixth grade through high school.The link to my feature story on O’Brien is here.
Q: When you think about Danny, have you met anyone who watches as much film and who prepares like he does?
That’s the thing that’s a little different about Danny. Even on my team now, just being around football in high school and college, and even myself — I consider myself a really hard worker because I am always in the film room, too. But I don’t even compare to Danny. That’s his life. That’s all he does. He lives, breathes football. We’ll go home and that’s all we’ll do. He’ll get out his whiteboard. And we’ll just draw on it all day, watch film and go over defenses. And that’s really what happens on the field, you know.
Q: Coach [Todd] Willert, your former high school coach, would tell me you two still go to the high school to watch tape and help the current high school players . . .
Oh yeah, and even when I am talking to him on the phone, it always goes back to football. We can’t quit talking about football.
Q: When it comes to tape, does his mind work differently than maybe some others?
Probably so. He can sit there and watch the same play over and over and over when some people just glance over it and be like, ‘I’ll see what I see.’ But he will sit there and study every little thing and what he will see on that play. That prepares you for what you’ll see in the game.
Q: Did you get early indications how goal-oriented he was?
Oh yes sir, and another thing that always impressed me was how much of a team-oriented guy he is. I’ll tell him ‘good game’ or ‘you played good.’ He will never say, ‘I did this’ or ‘I threw for this many yards last year.’ He says ‘we.’ He says everything in ‘we.’ Even to me, and I’m like, ‘You don’t have to do that with me, dude.’ Because we’re real close. And he still does it. That’s what amazes me. He stays so humble.
Q: Coach Willert says he still apologizes to Danny, even to this day, because of how hard he was on him. He says he was harder on him than any player he’s coached. What did you see with how hard he pushed Danny mentally?
I really didn’t understand it at the time. But I am really close with Coach Willert now and the more potential he sees in you the harder he is going to push you. For instance, if Danny were to ever throw an interception in practice, he would be running for the rest of practice. He expected perfection. That’s what made us a very good team. We were 12-2. And after a Friday game, win or lose, Danny and I, sometimes a few other guys, would be up early, running routes, already watching film for the next week. When I am with Danny, he makes everyone else want to work harder. He makes all the players play better. Quarterbacks in college, it’s hard to really say, but, even on my team now, you want to play harder for a guy like that. When I am playing with Danny, you want to play harder just for him because he has those charisma and leadership qualities about him. He has the most self-motivation of anyone I have ever seen, and it rubs off on other people. I’m a good self-motivator also, I don’t think I’m as good as Danny, but when I am home, football, it’s like I am in camp, football 24-7.
Q: When you met him in sixth, seventh grade, was he into watching tape even back then?
He would be drawing up plays, I can’t really remember that far back about watching film. But he was always advanced as far as football knowledge compared with everybody. I’m one of the higher football knowledge guys on my team now, and it’s really because of Danny. When I go home, I learn so much from Danny, and I bring it to my team now.
Q: In high school, you’d mostly watch film at the high school or at home?
Both. We’d go home. We’ll get the whiteboard out, have it on a stand, and just keep drawing up plays. Even the one week off before the East Carolina game [in the Military Bowl]. We were going over the game-plan 24-7. He was studying that nonstop, watching East Carolina tape. Going back to high school, we would go to each other’s house every night and watch film on the team we were about to play, and we would try to decide what plays might work best against them. And we would actually put those plays in. We would run them on Friday in the game. In high school, most plays don’t even know what coverages they are seeing. Danny knew everything.
Q: How much did you talk to him through the coaching change at Maryland?
I was talking to him a whole lot during that time, because he was real close to Coach Franklin. That was really the reason he went to Maryland, that was one of the big reasons. When he left, it really hurt him. He really didn’t know what was going on, who they were getting. As soon as they got Edsall, he seemed pretty excited about it.