VANCOUVER - Blake Nill has made his first big splash with the UBC Thunderbirds.
The new head coach of the school's football program announced Thursday that former Penn State quarterback Michael O'Connor has transferred to the university in time for the 2015 season.
"It means a lot. It allows UBC football to be up front and noticed," said Nill. "It's something that we have to do to get this program where I envision it to be. I've always described myself as a home run hitter in terms of recruiting.
"I swung for the fences here and made good contact."
An Ottawa native, O'Connor was ranked as the No. 6 quarterback by ESPN in the NCAA's entire 2014 recruiting class, but chose to leave Penn State after former head coach Bill O'Brien left for the NFL's Houston Texans.
Nill said O'Connor had offers from other Division I schools south of the border, but instead chose to come to UBC.
"It was definitely a long shot, right? But these are things you have to do when you want to make quick changes in your program and create a culture of excellence," said Nill, a two-time Vanier Cup winner with the Saint Mary's Huskies. "You have to go after the top guys no matter how desperate it may seem. If you do it enough and you do it in a professional manner and take care of business, every now and then you're successful. We were successful with Michael."
The 19-year-old O'Connor, who stands six-foot-five and weighs 230 pounds, joins a UBC team that has new life after Nill was hired away from the Calgary Dinos in December. The Thunderbirds have not had a winning season since 2004 and have not won a division title since topping the CIS back in 1997.
"I initially contacted him by Facebook. Made some initial communication with him, told him he's got to come out and see the campus," said Nill. "The academic reputation of the school, the setting of the school and the city of Vancouver just wowed him and the rest is history."
O'Connor played his junior season in high school at the Baylor School in Tennessee before attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he played under the tutelage of former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke.
O'Connor finished 11 for 16 for 81 yards last season for Penn State after O'Brien left for the NFL, but was relegated to third string and was officially red shirted, meaning that he will have all five years of eligibility with the Thunderbirds and can play immediately.
"This is just something that doesn't happen very often in your life," Nill said of landing O'Connor. "He is certainly the most reputable player I've ever recruited. I've had others that were close, but this kid's real deal."