Michigan QB John O'Korn reflects on 'roller-coaster' career

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan quarterback John O'Korn plans to play in the NFLPA Bowl Jan. 20 and pursue a career in the pros.

Tampa, Fla. — Michigan quarterback John O’Korn, anguished after the loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale, was choked up and shed tears as he spoke to the media moments later.

O’Korn, backing up redshirt freshman Brandon Peters as the Wolverines prepare to face South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, looked refreshed and confident after Michigan’s practice at Berkeley Prep High on Wednesday.

The Wolverines (8-4) arrived here Tuesday and began practicing in sunny, 75-degree-plus weather on Wednesday. Peters, who missed the Ohio State game after suffering a concussion the week before against Wisconsin, is the No. 1 quarterback in bowl practices, with O’Korn, who will be playing his final collegiate game, backing him up.

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“For obvious reasons, the game meant so much not just to me but to all of us, our senior class,” O’Korn said of the Ohio State game. “That was one it took a few days to get over that loss. Sleepless nights, running plays through your head. Every time you lose a game, you have moments like that, but I think we put so much work into it, because it meant too much to us, because we hadn’t beaten them as a senior class, that’s why I responded the way I did after the game.”

It has been a challenging career for O’Korn, a Pennsylvania native who finished high school at St. Aquinas in south Florida, before attending Houston and then transferring to Michigan.

Wilton Speight won the Michigan starting job this fall for the second season in a row, and O’Korn was the backup. O’Korn took over when Speight was injured at Purdue the fourth game of the season, then lost the starting job late in the season to Peters.

O’Korn said it’s difficult to sum up his entire football career.

“Not just at Michigan but just in general, it’s been a roller coaster,” O’Korn said. “I started as a skinny sophomore kid in Pennsylvania, and my parents saw something in me and decided to move me to Florida closer to family close to high school. My junior year, I had no offers, I was third string and continued to battle and got some playing time and was able to get some scholarship offers.

“I went to Houston, a guy goes down the second week of the season and started 11-12 games, getting benched the next year, coming here, expecting to play, not playing, getting a chance. It’s just been a roller coaster. I think I’ve grown so much as a person through those experiences. It’s really hard to put into words, but it’s definitely prepared me for whatever’s next, whether that’s a long NFL career, or a career in business or politics, whatever it ends up being, all those experiences will definitely pay huge dividends in the long run.”

O’Korn will play in the NFLPA Bowl on Jan. 20 and will continue to train for a shot at professional football.

“Give everything I’ve got to that and I think it will be clear whenever it’s time to hang it up, whether that’s eight to nine months from now or 15-20 years from now. Who knows. I’m going to continue to work until the writing is on the wall and move on. I think it will be clear when it’s time.”

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If football doesn't pan out, he said he may pursue a business career or even politics.

Michigan’s quarterback room will have a decidedly different composition heading into spring practice. O’Korn will be gone, as will Speight and Alex Malzone, who both will transfer as graduates. Peters will return, as will Dylan McCaffrey, who has redshirted this season as a freshman, and Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will be the new face, along with early-enrollee freshman Joe Milton.

It isn’t easy being a transfer at any position, but quarterback might carry a heavier burden. O’Korn shared his thoughts on transferring from Houston to Michigan as Patterson prepares for his move.

“You’re walking into a situation — I did it in high school and I did it as freshman at Houston and when I came to Michigan, obviously — you’re walking into a locker room where most of the guys are already familiar with each other, and you’re the unfamiliar one,” he said. “I remember when I moved to Florida in high school, I wasn’t as well received because there was a guy already there. Same thing at Houston.

“A lot of guys were friends with Wilton when I first got here. So those are things you’ve just got to be patient, put the time in, be seen and not heard, put the work in and the guys will rally around you if you’re chosen to lead the team.”

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At the Michigan football banquet, O’Korn said he looked forward to watching Peters run the offense next fall. He said Peters is more than capable and has matured tremendously since his arrival.

“It’s night and day from the time he got here,” O’Korn said. “He enrolled early, and when we were at IMG (spring 2015) is the first time we saw him. He’s come such a long way. Even this season, from the first time he went in, he’s just grown up so much.

“He’s really taken control of the offense and taken control of the locker room. It’s been pretty cool to see. He was pretty quiet, really soft-spoken when he got here. You may remember (former UM pass-game coordinator) Jedd (Fisch) talking about trying to get him to speak up at times in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, and those issues are gone. He’s done a great job. Really proud of him and it’s really cool to see him develop.”

Outback Bowl

Michigan vs. South Carolina

Kickoff: Noon Monday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

TV/radio: ESPN2/950

Records: Michigan 8-4, South Carolina 8-4

Line: Michigan by 7.5