Michigan Wolverines

John O’Korn on going from Heisman hype to the bench

Photo: Andy Shippy | FanRag Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan quarterback John O’Korn was candid and open when discussing his collegiate football career. He pointed out his flaws, citing happy feet during a 20-10 win over Indiana last November. He pointed out his mistakes, such as being too in the moment while starter Wilton Speight recovered from an unspecified shoulder-area injury.

He admitted that he may have “blown” his shot at the No. 1 job in 2016; however, he also noted that it’s a new year, and he has “another opportunity” to achieve what would be the crowning moment of his football life.

“I think anybody who would win a starting quarterback job at Michigan would say that’s the (highest) honor,” said O’Korn, who completed 20 of 34 attempts for 173 yards and two touchdowns in 2016 — his first active season since 2014, when he was a sophomore at Houston.

“Tom Brady came back and said that the greatest honor in his life was being named a captain here, you know. Everything that happens here carries a lot of weight, and it means a lot to a lot of people… so, absolutely (earning job would be crowning moment of career).”

O’Korn, entering his final year of eligibility, realizes that 2017 is his last go-round on the biggest of stages — he’s just hoping to make the best of the situation, whether as the Wolverines’ unlikely starter or as a sturdy backup to Speight, who returns as the one of the best QBs in the Big Ten.

Rather than sulk and complain, O’Korn has “swallowed pride” and embraced a two-year competition directed by coach Jim Harbaugh. It would have been easy to quickly hoist the white flag up the pole after finishing second one year ago, but the 6-foot-4, 215-pound former St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) star refuses to be a victim of circumstance.

For that, O’Korn deserves some credit. Hell, he deserves a lot of credit. He may not ever grow into Michigan’s starting quarterback, but it’s clear that he has grown as a man since arriving in Ann Arbor in 2015.

Once at the top of the heap at Houston, the 2013 American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year was mentioned in 2014 Heisman and Davey O’Brien discussions with the Cougars. Then — after passing for more than 3,000 yards the previous season — he was, in his mind, inexplicably benched and used as a “scapegoat” for an entire program’s downfalls.

“It’s part of being human,” he said of the highs and lows, later elaborating on the sudden change: “That’ll shake an 18-year-old kid. It’s just something that you’ve got to go through and learn from to get where you are now.”

Where is he now?

Is he closer to the 2013 O’Korn, or is he closer to the 2016 O’Korn who often forced throws and panicked during a slim 10-point home victory over the Hoosiers? Is either comparison even fair anymore?

“I would say I’m neither of those. I think I’m at a place where I’ve never been before, so I would say neither of those (comparisons) would be fair,” O’Korn said, obviously engaged in deep thought.

He was honest — maybe too honest at times.

But he was mature, always focusing on what he had to do in order to achieve his ultimate goal. Riding the bench wasn’t fun in 2016, but if that’s the case this year, O’Korn will be Speight’s biggest supporter.

It’s been a drastic turn, but he has learned to embrace the change and adopt a broader view of what attending Michigan can do for his future — not athletically, but in life.

While at Houston, O’Korn began working with Team IMPACT, an organization that grants wishes for ill children. Back then, he befriended a 15-year-old named Jacolby Rogers, who joined the Cougars in 2014. They were close.

Relationships such as those don’t come around every day, nor at every school. That said, O’Korn befriended another youngster, this time 16-year-old Larry Prout, Jr., who signed with the Wolverines in 2016.

Prout Jr. has had close to 100 operations during his young life — surgeries many of us would never be able to endure.

O’Korn thinks of Prout all the time. It wasn’t a feel-good thing for media to cover; it was real — and it remains real. Prout even wears No. 8 because of O’Korn.

“I love that kid. There’s been times, specifically, he was going through a lot of stuff this summer — and he had a really tough time battling with a lot of things,” O’Korn said, lighting up when saying “I love that kid” in response to a question from Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News.

“I would be in the middle of a workout — a tough workout — and coaches are kicking your ass, you know… but the thought of a strong kid like that, the strongest person I know, really, crosses your mind and you’re like ‘Oh, I can’t even complain.’ You have to bite your tongue. Just getting to know him, and seeing his joy every time he’s in this building, and go see him at his house or at Mott (Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor), just brightens my day. You really appreciate all that Team IMPACT and Michigan have done to forge that relationship.”

Friendships, lessons in pride, and lifelong connections — O’Korn, regardless if he starts, will leave Michigan with more than what he came with in 2015. That much was made clear Wednesday evening at Schembechler Hall.

“I think it’s huge, you know. Especially with, just, the connections you make here,” O’Korn said, obviously seeing the bigger picture. “There’s a huge alumni, but the people you meet here, while you’re in school — your classmates — and the relationships you build, those are going to be the people that go on to be the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and all those great things. So, you know, I think it’s going to — obviously — carry a lot of weight.”

Sports in the Mitten podcast — Thoughts on JOK, QB race, LBs

Follow Adam Biggers of FanRag Sports on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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