The night before East Forsyth's game against Winston-Salem (N.C.) Reynolds last August, head coach Todd Willert was admittedly nervous.
It was the second game of the season, and East Forsyth’s starting tailback, Christian Smith, was out with an ankle injury. Before Willert was able to fall asleep, however, he received a comforting text message from Eagles quarterback and Maryland commitment Danny O’Brien.
“I’m up worrying about the game,” Willert said. “At about 11 o’clock that night, [O’Brien] texted me and said, ‘Coach, just give me the ball and I’ll run.’ He knew we needed to man up. So I slept a lot better after that.”
O’Brien delivered on his text-message proclamation, rushing for 148 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries. He also threw for 71 yards and two scores on 4-of-9 passing, leading the Eagles to a 37-16 road win over Reynolds.
“At Reynolds, he really showed me a lot,” Willert said. “He gave the kids a lot of confidence.”
O’Brien, Rivals.com’s No. 37 pro-style quarterback, continued to be a dual threat throughout his senior season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder completed 117 of 235 passes for 1,640 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for 780 yards and 11 scores on 160 carries.
“He did very well,” Willert said. “We went 12-2, made the third round of the playoffs and won a conference title. You can’t do that unless you have a real good quarterback. Like all football teams, the quarterback is usually the leader and Danny was great in the leadership role.”
Part of that leadership role was making up for Smith’s early-season absence by becoming East Forsyth’s top running threat. Willert said O’Brien embraced his role as a running quarterback.
“He’s more of a football-speed guy. He doesn’t have blazing speed at all; he’s maybe a 4.7 kid,” Willert said. “But he is an athletic quarterback. A lot of people thought he was a straight dropback passer, but we surprised a lot of people by running him. ... And he didn’t have any problem [with running the ball]. He just wanted to win. ... Once again, it was just a sign of leadership. He didn’t care how he did it. He just wanted to win.”
O’Brien’s success running the football complemented his improvement as a passer. Willert was impressed by O’Brien’s football IQ.
“He could read the defenses a lot better,” Willert said. “Having been in the offense another year, he knows the offense probably as good as me, if not better. It was like having another coach out there.”
“Danny just wants to go up there and win. That’s one of the reasons he picked Maryland,” Willert said. “He felt he could go up there and win. And he likes the idea of competition. It’s something that will work very well for him.”