By TOM LEA
MADISON – Bret Bielema secured a commitment from transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien Wednesday morning, marking a much-needed improvement to the Wisconsin Badgers depth at the position.
"We’re excited that Danny has chosen to attend Wisconsin,” Bielema said via UW press release. “The first thing we did when we were aware of Danny’s interest was to try and find out what type of person he was and if he would fit into our program.
“From our dealings with him and all the things I have heard from those who have been around him, he is a tremendous person and has great character. He had a fantastic visit and our current players who met him came away impressed.”
O’Brien, a two-year starter at Maryland, will have two years of eligibility remaining and would be able to play (barring injury) immediately next fall since he already earned an undergraduate degree. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ for his performance as a redshirt freshman.
That year he completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,438 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“As is the case with any player who joins our program,” Bielema noted. “We have not promised Danny anything other than the chance to come in during the fall and compete for the starting quarterback position.
“He understands that and is excited for that opportunity.”
O’Brien, a player not necessarily known for his ability to create outside the pocket, entered his sophomore year as the preseason ACC Player of the Year by Lindy’s, but struggled his sophomore season under first-year Maryland head coach Randy Edsall and his spread style offense.
O'Brien threw for 1,648 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions before suffering a season-ending broken left arm against Notre Dame on Nov. 12.
Following the season he was granted his release from the Maryland program and opened his recruitment, taking visits to Ole Miss, Wisconsin and Penn State in recent days.
“Just taking my time with this thing,” O’Brien communicated via text message before making his visits. “Left an unfortunate situation and I want to make sure it’s the best fit before putting stuff out there.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback spent last weekend visiting the UW football program in Madison, a place he said he was ‘very excited’ to visit just one day before he made the trip.
He then visited Penn State on Monday. Sources indicate his final decision came down to the Badgers and Nittany Lions.
The addition of O’Brien comes at a great time for the Badgers, especially considering both Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr aren’t expected to contribute much, if at all, during UW’s ongoing spring camp.
Phillips continues rehabbing his three-time surgically repaired knee and Budmayr is in the midst of figuring out the recurring nerve injury plaguing his throwing elbow. It remains uncertain when Budmayr would get the go-ahead to play again.
Incoming quarterback recruit Bart Houston will enter the program limited while recovering from shoulder surgery to remove a cyst when he gets on campus this fall.
O’Brien’s commitment also marks the second such high-profile transfer quarterback to chose Wisconsin in as many years. Russell Wilson transferred to UW after spending three years at North Carolina State.
He led the Badgers to an 11-2 regular season record, a Big Ten championship and a second-consecutive berth in the Rose Bowl. Wilson completed 72.8 percent of his passes for a school-record 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and four interceptions. His senior season 191.8 quarterback rating is the NCAA’s all-time best for single season passing efficiency.