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January 24, 2014

Q&A: Tom O'Brien proud of former Pack players




Former NC State coach Tom O'Brien took the time Friday to answer several questions about his four former players, who are playing in the Super Bowl.

Quarterback Russell Wilson, guard J.R. Sweezy, and kicker Steven Hauschka helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to their second Super Bowl. The trio will square off against former NCSU teammate Nate Irving, who is a starting linebacker for the Denver Broncos.

O'Brien, who went 40-35 and reached four bowl games in six years at NC State, was fired following the 2012 season. The Cincinnati native is currently the assistant head coach and tight ends coach at Virginia.

Here is a transcript from his teleconference with the media:

What were your initial impressions to Russell Wilson when you were hired at NC State and tried to keep his verbal commitment?

"Well, we actually recruited him and signed him. He was part of the first class we had. He was committed by the old staff [head coach Chuck Amato]. We took it over. When I first met him, certainly in Richmond [Virginia] and on his official visit, and we were happy and excited that he chose to come to NC State."

What is it like to have four former NC State players in the Super Bowl?

"They are all in their own way great success stories. You look at Nate [Irving of the Broncos] and he had that tragic accident right before his senior year, coming back to what would have been his senior year. Everybody that looked at the car, they don't know how he got out of the car. I remember being in the hospital room the next day and they knew he had a broken leg. He was in a neck brace, his lung was collapsed. I think he separated his shoulder. They weren't sure about spinal injury.

"We texting this week and he said, 'Ha, ha. The doctor said I would never play football again.' What a great story for Nate to have the opportunity to come back and really work his way back in. He was tentative when he came back, but certainly by the end of his senior year, he was really a heck of a player for us.

"[Seattle Seahawks kicker] Steven Hauschka was a kid that [former special teams coordinator] Jerry Petercuskie did a great job finding. He was at a small college [Middlebury] and wanted to try to kick big-time, and didn't have many opportunities. We were certain and glad that he came to State. When you look at him, he has such great form and was a guy that never over-kicks the football. He even bounced around the NFL. I don't know if it was five or six teams that he was with and ended up being cut by. He found a home in Seattle.

"He is a great example for young kids to never over-stride or ever over-hit. He knows his limitations. If the story is correct, I read last week and he said, 'I don't think I can make this coach.' They changed their mind and went for it. It's pretty special to have a guy like that and have the trust of the coach to believe in it and go from there.

"J.R. was a kid that came to us in the same class as Russell. We signed him our first year there. He kicked around and played linebacker, thought about tight end and finally told him his position was defensive tackle and be big enough. By his senior year, he was the leader of the football team. He went down with an injury his senior year when we were devastated there on defense and he missed a lot of playing time.

"To go to the NFL, it kind of reminds me of, you remember we had R.J. Mattes [at NC State]? R.J.'s dad played here at Virginia, Ron [and he was a defensive tackle]. He actually went to Seattle and was an offensive tackle out there. He made the conversion and worked extremely hard.

"Everybody knows Russell's story. It's a great story of all four kids persevering and they all had to fight through different things to get to where they are. It's great they all have the first time opportunity. [Former Boston College player Dan] Koppen is on the I.R. and he already got his rings with the Patriots. He is just an old guy that is enjoying life right now, except he is probably freezing in New York."

As you look back, is there anything you would have done differently with Russell Wilson's departure from NC State?

"No. What you do is, I'm not clairvoyant. I can't tell the future. The thing that you do and that you always do is you make decisions based on the facts that you have at that time. Certainly, with the facts and situation that it was [with baseball], we parted on great terms. Russell went his way.

"We had to make a decision what is best for NC State. We made that decision and went forward. The best news is that it worked out for both kids [Wilson and quarterback Mike Glennon]. Both had the opportunity. They both got to compete against each other and played this year on the field. It's a great opportunity for Russell and a great opportunity for Michael. We were lucky to have those kids for the four years that we had them playing, or five years, whatever at State. People ought to be happy about that."

Were you in jeopardy of losing Glennon to transfer since also was on pace to graduate early at that time?

"That goes back to all the facts that were on the table at that point. Michael would have graduated that year. He could move on if he wanted to at the end of that year. That was all part of the decision making process that had to happen.

"You could have one quarterback, two quarterbacks or have no quarterbacks."

At one point did you know you had something special? Did you know that when he arrived on campus? What was the first indicator?

"Well you knew you had a special young man. Russell someday might be president if he wants to be. He has great people skills, he has great leadership, he has great personality.

"We ended up redshirting him. If we felt that he was going to be that kind of quarterback with our quarterback situation we probably would have played him my first year there. We certainly could have used someone of his ability.

"We went to preseason Glennon's true freshman year, was Russell's redshirt freshman year. They went down to the last scrimmage in preseason camp before we made the decision to go with Russell.

"Russell is an individual just like the other four guys. They've worked so hard to get to where they wanted to get to and that's what's so exciting about coaching and getting to being around kids like Nate and Steven and J.R., and Russell's the same way. All the work they put in off the field to get to be in this situation, that's the exciting part for a coach.

"Knowing this is going to be my eighth Super Bowl winner in the last 11 years, that's something special.

"The best thing that happened to Russell might have been Dana Bible. If you look at Dana and the things Dana has done with quarterbacks, he never had Matt Hasselback, but he had Tim Hasselback, he had Brian St. Pierre, both of those guys have started in the NFL. Everybody knows Matt Ryan and what he has done.

"We both had Russ and then had Mike at State. What he's done with those kids at quarterback, to have five, six guys to wind up playing in the NFL and start at quarterback is pretty special, so Dana is a pretty special coach."

Did you have a chance to catch up with Russell after the 49ers game?

"I've texted those guys, all of them. Some have replied, some of them haven't as of yet, but they will."

How would you describe the split with Russell? It was amicable?

"Yeah, I had no problems. It's always been good. I think maybe some people think it hasn't been. Certainly I think it has been fine. I texted him asking for tickets when they came and play the Redskins then I texted him I was kidding him. Stuff like that, we're good."

Were you surprised how quickly Russell's had success? I know he landed in a good spot that was conducive to starting off his career well, but did you expect it from him this quickly?

"I don't know if you expect any of these guys that have won Super Bowl to get there and win when they get there because it's so hard to get there. I think as with everything in life, it takes a lot of perseverance, takes a lot of sweat, a lot of hard work, maybe a little bit of luck. You need to be in the right spot at the right time and take advantage of those situations.

"J.R. is in the same situation. He and Russell went in there together. I don't think Steven was too far behind them getting out to Seattle, so they all landed in a good situation. They've all worked hard and made the most of it, and they've all contributed, I think, to the success of the Seahawks."

What do you think makes him so special despite his size?

"You have to go back to I think Dana Bible. He really does a great job with quarterbacks. He's been in the NFL. He's coordinated there. He's done those things. We had a good friendship with Doug Flutie when we were at Boston College, certainly.

"We had conversations with Doug that I relayed them to Russell. I think for Russell, when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, I think that's when Russell was absolutely convinced in his mind that he could have an opportunity, that a quarterback at that height, could have an opportunity to win the Super Bowl.

"The Saints were the cookie that broke the mold: the 6-5, powerful arm guy to win the Super Bowl."



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