How offensive analyst Danny O’Brien helped recruit A.J. Locke to Penn State football
Despite having an 11-11 record over the past two campaigns, Penn State has managed to recruit extremely well, boasting the eighth-best class in 2022, and currently, it ranks third in 2023.
The Nittany Lion coaches and recruiting staff deserve a lot of credit for consistently bringing in top talent.
Offensive analyst Danny O’Brien came to Happy Valley in 2021 after being the running backs coach for the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League.
O’Brien and the blue and white have had a unique history, and he has done well helping recruit talent to the program.
In the early 2010s, O’Brien was named the ACC Rookie of The Year and a Freshman All-American after throwing 22 touchdowns and 2,438 yards at Maryland.
A familiar face was the offensive coordinator for the Terrapins, and it was an up-and-coming coach by the name of James Franklin.
Maryland struggled during the star quarterback’s tenure, and in 2010 it fired coach Ralph Friedgen, while Franklin departed to become the head coach at Vanderbilt.
In 2012 O’Brien decided it was best to leave College Park, and one of the places he visited was Happy Valley.
However, after many thought he would join former coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State, he instead committed to Wisconsin, with his career in Madison only lasting seven games.
After a brief stint at Catawba College in North Carolina, O’Brien signed with the Columbus Lions of the CFL in 2014 and eventually played with the Ottawa Redblacks, winning the Grey Cup in 2016 as a backup.
He went on to play with Edmonton and the BC Lions before retiring in 2019. He joined the BC Lions as an offensive assistant in January of 2020.
Even though O’Brien was coaching in Canada, he remained in contact with Franklin, who established himself as a top coach in the nation.
“He’s so great with building lifelong relationships with people in general. It’s one of many things that I’m so impressed with him about,” O’Brien said of Franklin in an interview with StateCollege.com. “Me and him, we’ve stayed in touch [even when I was up in Canada], visiting him and popping in for practices. So we’ve kept in touch my entire time in Canada pretty consistently. So it’s awesome to be able to be reunited in this way.”
As a former star in the Big Ten, O'Brien knows what it takes to succeed in the conference, and he is passing that knowledge down to the plethora of young signal-callers in the program.
In the 2022 class, the blue and white landed five-star Drew Allar, who has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, while also adding three-star Beau Pribula.
Alongside the duo of Allar and Pribula, the program has also added two more quarterbacks in the 2023 class with the additions of four-star Marcus Stokes and A.J. Locke.
Locke announced his verbal commitment to Penn State earlier in June, and despite having interest from other schools, Locke decided to join the program as a preferred walk-on.
A major reason the Long Island, New York, native became a Nittany Lion stemmed from O’Brien helping to recruit him.
“He made everything easy for me where I felt like I didn't have anything to worry about,” Locke said. “He would always check in with me at random times, and it wasn’t even about football. He cares about your life situations.”
Locke measures 5′-10″ and 160 pounds while unranked, but he is poised for a breakout senior campaign. The rising senior plays for Holy Trinity, which captured a CHSAA title last season and has some of the top talents in New York.
Family is something that matters to Locke, and he mentioned that O’Brien didn’t act like a coach but as an older brother.
“Coach O’Brien makes you feel like he’s your older brother,” Locke said. “He doesn’t make it seem like he's coach that has so much hold over you, but he makes you feel that you have nothing to worry about.”
Locke visited the program several times before committing, and each time he noticed how everyone treated him like family.
The last time he was in Happy Valley was for the annual blue-white game in April, which he had always dreamed of attending.
“The blue-white game was something that I thought I would never be able to experience in my life,” Locke said. “Everyone was so welcoming, and it was all one big family.”
It was at the spring game where Locke saw Allar make his Beaver Stadium debut, much to the delight of Locke.
Allar committed to blue and white as a four-star in March of 2021, but he flew up recruiting boards after a stellar senior season finishing as the No. 32 player in the nation.
The Medina, Ohio, native stands at 6’4 and 232 pounds while possessing elite arm strength and ball placement.
However, for Locke, it wasn’t Allar’s elite skills that caught his eye, it was the way he carried himself on the field that impressed Locke.
“The way he carries himself just makes you want to be around him,” Locke said. “You can just tell by his demeanor that he’s a leader of a football team, and you can tell that he is born to lead a team.”
He also mentioned that being in a quarterback room with Allar would be extremely special.
Locke is set to return to campus on June 12 and is extremely excited to visit Happy Valley once again and talk with the coaches, especially O’Brien.
“Penn State really showed a lot during my visits,” Locke said. “I’ve been there four or five times, it has always been a family vibe, and every recruit should consider Penn State.”
Alex Rocco is a rising third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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