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St. Croix Central grad Todd Willert coached new University of Wisconsin quarterback

St. Croix Central graduate Todd Willert is the head coach of the East Forsyth High School football team in North Carolina.

The football world is abuzz because the Wisconsin Badgers were able to reel in quarterback Danny O'Brien, who is currently at the University of Maryland.

If you want to know about O'Brien, there isn't a better source than 1990 St. Croix Central graduate Todd Willert. Willert was O'Brien's coach at East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, N.C. Willert has been the head coach at East Forsyth since 2004.

Willert helped O'Brien make the decision to join the Badgers.

"It's been a crazy journey, the last couple months," Willert said.

Willert said that once O'Brien decided he was leaving Maryland, they put out feelers to see what universities might be interested. When the Badgers showed interest, Willert contacted Badger coach Bret Bielema, who expressed that the Badgers' interest was sincere.

The process moved quickly from there, with O'Brien officially signing to play with the Badgers last Wednesday. O'Brien will graduate from Maryland this spring, after three years of studies. He will have two years of eligibility remaining.

"He's very smart," Willert said of O'Brien. "He's a student of the game, that's one of his attractions."

O'Brien chose Wisconsin over several other suitors, led by Penn State and Vanderbilt. Wisconsin has a recent history of success with transfer quarterbacks, after Russell Wilson transferred in this season to lead the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Like Wilson, O'Brien will not have to sit out a year because he will graduate this spring.

When O'Brien completed high school, many top college programs recruited him. His final decision came down to Maryland or Duke, selecting Maryland because he felt he was a better fit with the Terrapins, according to Willert.

O'Brien, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, was the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the year as a redshirt freshman in 2010. He had a 7-3 record as a starter and threw for 2,438 yards, with 22 touchdown passes. He threw eight interceptions in 337 pass attempts and ranked fourth in the ACC in passing efficiency (134.5). The Terrapins then went through a coaching change and O'Brien's style didn't mesh well with the new coaching staff.

One of the main reasons O'Brien chose to join the Badgers was his belief that his quarterbacking style meshed well with what the Badgers have planned offensively for the upcoming seasons.

It's been a long, unique trip that took Willert from St. Croix Central to North Carolina. After graduating from Central in 1990, Willert attended UW-River Falls, playing football for the Falcons. Willert's college roommate came from South Carolina to attend UW-River Falls. They agreed that they wanted to coach together. Because his roommate made the long trip for college, it was agreed that Willert would travel to the East Coast to begin his coaching and teaching career. He's been there ever since.

He's in his 19th year of coaching football and his ninth season as head coach at East Forsyth. He's led East Forsyth to the state playoffs each of the past four seasons. In O'Brien's senior year, the Eagles went 12-2 but finished two games short of the state championship game.

Prior to coming to East Forsyth, Willert coached for one year at Allen University, where he coached the quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Before heading to the east coast, Willert had several coaching positions in Wisconsin. He coached two years at Clayton High School as the defensive coordinator. Willert spent the 1998 season as the special teams coordinator and quarterback coach at Spring Valley. Willert began his coaching career at St. Croix Central where he spent his first four years as an assistant coach under head coach Gary Reineck.

Willert said football in North Carolina is a bigger event than it is in Wisconsin. East Forsyth High School has an enrollment of 1,950 students and is part of the biggest conference in the state. Willert has placed a number of players in college. One player had a tryout in the NFL and Willert said that O'Brien may also consider a pro career once he's completed his college eligibility.

One of Willert's assistant coaches at East Forsyth is familiar to St. Croix Central residents. It is his dad, Allen, who has been assisting him the past five seasons. Allen lives in Hammond, then spends the time during spring practices and the fall season living with his son.

Todd said he plans to attend several Badger games to see O'Brien play this fall. He has a convenient place to stay. His brother, Scott, lives in Sun Prairie, just outside Madison.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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