Patrick O’Brien has played for four head coaches in five seasons at two FBS programs.
Which makes Wednesday’s compliment all the more meaningful.
Because, what ultimately sold the sixth-year graduate transfer quarterback on Washington was the people, as much as the place.
“It was just a great relationship with the coaches,” said O’Brien, who announced his commitment last Thursday but decided on UW several days before. “When they recruited me they did an awesome job. They were different from any other school I was talking to. That was one. The academics at Washington are also amazing. I’m going to get a master’s degree, so that’s something that’s going to last me for the rest of my life.
“And it’s a really good football team. It’s a chance to compete for a starting job for a really good team in the Pac-12 that has a chance to compete at the national stage. So for me it was really just a no-brainer almost at that point. It really all came together for me.”
And it came together incredibly quickly after O’Brien entered the transfer portal on Dec. 18. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback has never been to Seattle, though he joked that “my parents were there for their anniversary before COVID-19 hit. So they were pretty much actively recruiting me to go to Washington, saying how great Seattle is and how much I’m going to love it. The coaching staff had that going for them.”
But the coaching staff didn’t need much in the way of internal advantages. Not after offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan presented his pitch.
“Coach Donovan had me come on a Zoom call, and he showed me games and all that stuff, but he was showing me how he would coach the quarterback position and certain things like that,” O’Brien said Wednesday from his home in California. “I’ve never done anything like that before, and I thought it was pretty admirable.
“A lot of coaches are really just trying to sell you on the school and everything, but he was selling me more on the type of coach he is. With (head coach Jimmy) Lake, too, he just seemed super genuine when talking with him over the phone. He was saying all the right things.”
But he didn’t say, notably, that O’Brien could instantly assume the starting spot. After three scholarship quarterbacks — graduate student Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Ethan Garbers — opted not to return this offseason, O’Brien will compete with returning starter Dylan Morris and five-star freshman Sam Huard for precious Pac-12 reps.
But, unlike his quarterback competitors, O’Brien brings a wealth of experience to the three-ring circus. In four games (and three starts) at Colorado State in 2020, the San Juan Capistrano, California, product completed 56.3% of his passes and threw for 591 yards with three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and two interceptions — while splitting time with redshirt junior Todd Centeio. That’s after he completed 62% of his passes and threw for 2,803 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while adding two more rushing scores, in 11 games (nine starts) in 2019.
A former San Juan Hills High School four-star standout, O’Brien transferred from Nebraska to CSU before the 2018 season. He made four appearances as a backup at Nebraska in 2017, completing 18 of 30 passes for 192 yards.
And none of that makes O’Brien the cemented starter against Montana inside Husky Stadium on Sept. 4. After all, Morris — a 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Puyallup — completed 60.9% of his passes and threw for 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions in four starts last fall, leading the Huskies to a 3-1 record and a North Division title. And Huard was ranked by the 247Sports.com Composite as a five-star prospect and the nation’s No. 1 prostyle passer as well.
In his sixth and final collegiate season, at his third school, O’Brien will have to prove he’s the Huskies’ best option.
“I’ve been in multiple quarterback competitions in my career,” O’Brien said. “I know what to expect. So for me, it’s just about taking it one day at a time and being myself. I know what type of player I am, and my goal is just to prove that to the players and earn their respect, and also to the coaches. I just want to garner their respect in that type of way and show what I can do on the field and be the best player I could possibly be.”
That process will start this spring, after O’Brien — who plans to pursue a master’s degree in either business administration or real estate — arrives in Seattle. And he’ll be joined by a unit returning its entire offensive line as well as the vast majority of its tight ends, running backs and wide receivers.
“It’s awesome,” O’Brien said. “The offensive line is bringing back everybody. The tight end (Cade Otton) was an All-American. He’s an outstanding player. The receivers are all great as well. Just looking at that and who’s coming back, it’s pretty exciting, honestly. I was super excited (to commit). I’m just ready to get up there and get to work with those guys and get better and help the team in any way I possibly can.”
He hopes, of course, that he’ll help the team most by starting under center — while showcasing the skill set to excel in Donovan’s prostyle scheme.
“This is going to be my fifth head coach, so I’ve been in multiple different types of systems,” O’Brien said. “I’ve learned a lot, being in college. I think I’ve grown mentally a lot in football. I think what UW is running right now really fits the quarterback I am. I’m a prostyle quarterback. I’m big. I have a really strong arm and can really make any throw.
“What they want to do offensively really fits what I want to do as a football player. So I think it’s a match made in heaven.”