Senior quarterback Danny O’Brien has decided to leave the University of Wisconsin football program.
Both O’Brien and Todd Willert, who was O’Brien’s high school coach at East Forsyth in North Carolina, confirmed the move in text messages to the State Journal on Monday.
O’Brien has one year of eligibility remaining. Willert texted he didn’t know where O’Brien would attend school next season, but a source close to O’Brien said he will likely wind up at Towson, a Football Championship Subdivision school in Maryland. He would be eligible to play right away.
The Badgers started their seven-week summer workout program on Monday, and O’Brien was home in Kernersville, N.C.
While O’Brien confirmed his departure, he did not immediately respond to a text message seeking an interview.
Coming out of spring practices, O’Brien fell behind sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave, who split time as the top two quarterbacks.
O’Brien was expected to fall further down the depth chart with the arrival of junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy, who arrived in Madison two weeks ago.
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, O’Brien said he talked to UW coach Gary Andersen and asked, “Am I going to get a chance to compete?”
O’Brien said it seemed to him Andersen was set on other quarterbacks and agreed it was the right decision to transfer.
“Coach Andersen has been awesome helping out,” O’Brien told the Sun.
O’Brien struggled in the spring game and appeared to have lost some of his confidence. He was 0-for-3 passing in the game, working primarily with the
No. 2 offense.
After arriving as a transfer from Maryland a year ago, O’Brien drew comparisons to Russell Wilson, the transfer from North Carolina State in 2011 who put together the best season ever by a Badgers quarterback.
O’Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year at Maryland in 2010 but lost his starting job in 2011 and then broke his left arm in a loss to Notre Dame that November before transferring. Since he graduated before leaving, he was eligible to play at UW right away.
He won the starting job coming out of preseason camp last year and held it for three games. But with the offense floundering and O’Brien having committed three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — over a span of three halves, he was replaced by Stave in the fourth game against Texas-El Paso.
Stave won four of the next five games as the starter, but he suffered a broken left collarbone early in the second half of his sixth start against Michigan State. O’Brien played in the second half but was ineffective, completing 5 of
11 passes for 44 yards and getting sacked three times. UW, which was leading 7-3 at halftime, was held to one second-half field goal — and another one in overtime — in a 16-13 loss.
The Badgers had a bye the following week, in which Phillips and O’Brien competed for the starting job. Phillips emerged as the winner and started the final five games, including the 20-14 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
In seven games overall for the Badgers, O’Brien completed 52 of 86 passes (60.5 percent) for 523 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Since Andersen has said he wanted to give the junior-college transfers a chance to show what they can do in camp, it likely would have meant little practice time for O’Brien.
In addition to Stave, Phillips and McEvoy, the Badgers have a fourth scholarship quarterback in promising redshirt freshman Bart Houston.
O’Brien has already had four head coaches in his college career — Ralph Friedgen and Randy Edsall at Maryland, along with Bret Bielema and Andersen at UW. In addition, UW athletic director Barry Alvarez was the interim coach during last season’s Rose Bowl.