Duffy Daugherty Football Building
East Lansing, MI
When Tyler O’Connor committed to Michigan State I said at the time that he was, “The best high school QB I have ever seen.” No one since has taken that spot from him. The Spartans senior signal caller has impressed ever since the final whistle of the Cotton Bowl, taking the reins from Connor Cook.
Loved by his teammates, O’Connor is a natural leader with a penchant for making plays that has reminded many of Drew Stanton, the Arizona Cardinals QB. Dantonio wasn’t here to coach Stanton, but I asked him about Cook and his talents. The Spartans head coach didn’t hesitate to praise his senior.
“I think Tyler has a lot of ability. Obviously with what he was able to do the second half of Maryland and all of the Ohio State game. It speaks volumes. He was very successful, but he has to have a great spring and fall camp.”
Last year Jack Allen the former Spartan captain joked about O’Connor playing the QB position, “Like a Bullough.” Frankly you could just as easily say like an Allen. He is tough, willing to get the extra yard and even if his passes aren’t the prettiest, they get there and the ball gets moved.
So I asked certain captain Riley Bullough about O’Connor’s amazing spring. He was thrilled to brag on his friend, “The biggest think about Tyler is that he is competitive. Not to say the other guys aren’t, but he is a whole new level of competitive. He has the skills to make big plays. When you combine that with his athleticism, he can run and throw, from that aspect I have a lot of confidence in him.”
So do you agree with Jack Allen about him being a Bullough at quarterback? “I definitely agree with that. He is a competitive guy, he loves to win and he will do anything, he’ll try to run someone over, he is competitive like us.”
Riley and Tyler roomed together freshman year so they know each other well having lived in the dorms. “We were normal, we had fun.” That wasn’t a dorm room for the faint at heart. “Exactly.”
I asked Spartan QB Coach Brad Salem about O’Connor’s play this spring and his position coach couldn’t be happier. “Tyler is obviously coming into this spring with great experience. Obviously at Ohio State (O’Connor led the Spartans to a win last year). He’s playing with a lot of confidence. I like his confidence this spring”
For O’Connor you have to understand the competitive fire, but ironically he has none of the ego. That has helped him being on a team with 105 players that will all keep a keen eye on him. He said, “I see myself as the number one, I am sure the other guys are looking at it that way too. I feel like I am the leader in the room and I think the offense does look to me to make some plays right now and everything like that. Finally getting this role I think I have to embrace it like that and it’s the best way for me to go about it.”
Wise words from the Spartans redshirt senior. He went on to say, “I have had some of my best years of my life here. We have done some awesome things. I’ve always been ready and thankfully I would never wish it upon anybody, Connor (Cook) had a very healthy career. Maybe only missing one game really. It’s been a long time coming, but I have been looking forward to it. The day that Cotton Bowl (vs. Alabama) was over I was ready. I was ready to get in and start leading the guys and things like that. It has been an exciting four months with the off season workouts and everything to finally get on the field and start making plays, getting chemistry with everyone I am just really excited about it.”
Stanton was a gunslinger and I have used the word to describe O’Connor as well. He was asked about what it takes to fulfill that role on this football team. O’Connor’s answer was interesting.
“Be a dude. Just be a dude. To us what that means is just make plays. Whether there is a play there to be made or not you need to somehow find a way to do it.” So how do you keep your number one spot? “Be consistent at being a dude. You have to be consistent. Don’t make a bad play worse, if there is a play there to be made you have to make it.“
I have spent time with O’Connor at charity events including with Drew Stanton at Stanton’s High Five Foundation Golf Outing that I am the M.C. for. So I asked him about going back and watching film of Stanton to see how their games are similar.
“It is funny. We’ve put in some plays back in from Hoyer (Brian) and him. We have a couple of routes an concepts that we have dug up from them, and it is actually the first that I have really got to watch him. It is funny watching that old grainy film. It looks like it was from 20 years ago. It is unreal how going back eight years makes a world of difference. That is the first time I really got to see him play.”
You can watch film, you know how you play and the other quarterbacks play. Does it feel good to have some separation there from them? “Yeah. Like I said I feel really good. Being a leader is in my blood. I started for four years in high school; I started in football and basketball. I’ve been a leader all along, it is kind of just in my blood. Being a backup it is so hard to lead and not feel like you are stepping on Connor’s toes. I always felt like a leader regardless, but now I can be more vocal and talk to the whole offense and it’s easier to do that when you are playing and out there making plays with them.”
There is a long way to go until the Spartans kick the season off, but O’Connor has the leadership of this offense under his command. If he is anything like Drew Stanton, combined with what we saw at Ohio State last year, this could be a magical year.