BROOKINGS — Last November, South Dakota State quarterback Thomas O’Brien could barely look at media members at the Jackrabbits press conference after the Minnesota game in the inaugural season of the TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
In probably his last chance to defeat a team in his native state, the political science major led the Jacks to zero offensive touchdowns and played a role in all four of SDSU’s turnovers in the Jackrabbits’ 16-13 loss to the Gophers. With a soft voice, the Winona Cotter High School graduate offered no explanation for the turnovers to the press.
A year older and more mature, he is ready to stand tall and speak with confidence. With the Jacks set to take on Delaware on Sept. 11, the sophomore starting quarter is ready to lead his team in its pursuit to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“It’s been a great so far. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to get better,” O’Brien said. “I haven’t stressed on working on the little things, like I worried about last year. That has allowed me to focus more on leadership.”
The 2009 All-MVFC all-newcomer team member isn’t waiting behind Ryan Crawford (who was the starter for the Jacks midway through last year) or any other player. He’s the guy.
“Thomas has stepped up big,” said senior tight end Colin Cochart, who is getting looks from NFL scouts. He’s really focused and is going to have a strong year.”
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The Jackrabbit running backs also like what they see.
“Thomas is looking great. That big arm of his has been really accurate,” said Kyle Minett, a fellow Minnesota native, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in the last two seasons.
O’Brien, who threw for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season on the field, feels he has some work to do along with his youthful receivers.
“We’re ready to prove ourselves without a doubt,” said O’Brien, who went 4-2 as a starter. “We’ve put the work in and we can’t wait to go out there.”
The two losses were costly, as not only did the Jackrabbits fail to knock off a Big Ten team, but the Jacks didn’t advance into the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs after falling to Montana in November.
“We’re not dwelling on anything, but having that experience is going to make the offense, and the whole team, a lot more confident,” O’Brien said.