First-year Pitt defensive back P.J. O’Brien came a long way to Pittsburgh from Pompano Beach, Florida.
The reason? He fell in love with the Panthers because of their aggressive defense.
A 6-foot tall, 170-pound four-star recruit out of Deerfield Beach High School in Pompano Beach, O’Brien received scholarship offers from over 30 programs. He originally committed to Auburn, before flipping to Pitt after the Tigers fired head coach Gus Malzahn.
O’Brien styled his play after Pitt safeties Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin, citing them as role models. With them departing for the NFL, O’Brien sees a chance for him to step into a role right away at Pitt.
“[I’m a] hard-hitter, tackler, ball hog, I’m going to get the ball,” O’Brien said. “feel like it’s a great chance. I get a chance to play, you know, get my feet wet this year and contribute to the team.”
Despite the focus on Ford, Hamlin and the safety position, O’Brien remained noncommittal on where he will play: “whatever Coach Duzz wants me at, I’m down.”
Though O’Brien is a defensive back, it was defensive line coach Charlie Partridge who played a huge role in getting O’Brien to flip from Auburn.
“He’s been on me since my sophomore year of high school,” O’Brien said, adding that the two have a strong bond.
The Panthers have had a strong recruiting base in the Fort Lauderdale area in recent years, which also helped get O’Brien to Pittsburgh. Pitt linebacker Aydin Henningham went to Deerfield Beach with O’Brien, while running back Vincent Davis and cornerback Marquis Williams went to Cardinal Gibbons High School just 20 minutes away.
“That’s a good connection. I can take what they give me throughout my freshman year,” O’Brien said. “Just soak it in [like a] sponge and become a successful player.”
Considering the role that his relationship with teammates and coaches played in getting him to Pitt, O’Brien emphasized the importance of the bonds he’s formed.
“It’s like family here,” O’Brien said.