DANVERS -- Bill O'Brien is the head coach of the NFL Houston Texans, but on the St. John's Prep campus he is one of the football family. The 1988 graduate, who played football for the Eagles, returned as the guest speaker at the inaugural Friends of Prep Football barbeque that head coach Brian St. Pierre started.
A large group of over 160 players from many different decades returned to see old friends and coaches at the event held on the outdoor basketball court next to the gymnasium.
"It's special to have coach O'Brien here," said St. Pierre. "He's one of us, and we're proud to have him with us. Bill is one of only 32 guys in the whole world that does what he does. He has very little free time and represents the Prep on a huge stage.
"I wanted to start something like this when I first took over, and I'm pleased to see so many former players here. I recruited a bunch of alums to help me put it together. I've always had a passion for football; I love the sport, and I love this school."
O'Brien was introduced by Prep headmaster Dr. Edward Hardiman. O'Brien, who lived in Andover growing up admitted he went to the Prep "kicking and screaming."
"My parents thought it would be good for me, and by sophomore year I knew it was the best thing they could have done for me," said O'Brien. "It's all about the people here like coach (Fred) Glatz and coach (Jim) O'Leary. My best friends I made like Mike Panos and George Delaney are the most loyal people I know.
"I think St. John's Prep is the greatest school right now, and whatever it takes to make it even better you can all pitch in to help make it happen. Brian has a great vision for the football program. We've been emailing back and forth, and he is always very thoughtful in what he says."
O'Brien took a few questions, and the first was asked by Jim Panos about what the biggest difference between coaching at Penn State and Houston is. O'Brien said instead of young guys in college you guide and football is part of their lives, he now deals with a wide range of ages.
"How you treat each guy is a little different based on their skill set and what they'll do for the team," he said. "In Houston it's all about one thing -- football."
Another question was about what he had learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick in his years on his staff as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.
"There will never be anybody like Bill again," he said. "He has an incredible amount of knowledge about the game of football and strategy. You have to be smart enough to coach for him to understand how he does things, and what amazed me the most was that he never changed. A lot of people talk about how he is with the media, but Bill is the most honest, loyal person, who tells you the truth. He's a good guy, and we laugh a lot.
"I always wanted to be a football coach. I went to Brown and when I graduated my mother asked if I was sure all I wanted to do was coach. She was thinking about all the money spent on my education that maybe I should do something else, but I told her it was still coaching."
O'Brien said he is excited about the upcoming season and ready to go when camp opens on July 25. He said the Texans had a very good off-season.
"Houston is a great city, and the fans are so passionate about football," he said. "The players want to win for our them. I can't believe how much this place has changed. Mike (Panos) and George (Delaney) drove me around the campus.
"Brian St. Pierre has done a great job here and has a good vision for the future of the football program. I haven't seen some of my old teammates in 28 years, and they haven't changed much at all."
Panos, who had a great career at BC is on the Friends of Prep Football committee. "I couldn't say no when Brian asked me. We all love the energy he brings."