Varsity Preps

A.J. O’Neal C/O 2015 Spotlight

Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com

If a brick wall had legs, amazing physicality and displayed unrelenting tenacity on the football field, it would be named A.J. O’Neal.

When this 6-3, 215-pounder makes contact with the ballcarrier, the play stops right then and there. He has great footwork and really has a nose for where the play is going. O’Neal’s aggression is unquestionable, and he shows it with every monster hit. But success didn’t come instantly for him, it was something he worked hard for.

“I got moved up to varsity my sophomore year and started half the season,” O’Neal said. “At first, I would hit people, but they might drag me a little bit or fall forward. During the offseason, I really worked on hip explosion and creating the point of attack. I told myself, ‘Once I hit them, the play is going to end right here.’ When my junior season started, I felt a lot more confident with that.”

The hard work paid off for the linebacker/safety hybrid from Holly Springs High School (Holly Springs, NC), as he racked up 90 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble during his junior year. In March, he impressed scouts and coaches at the Nike Football Training Camp in Charlotte, NC, and earned the linebacker MVP award.

“I knew I needed to go out there with the mindset that I wouldn’t get beat, and if I did get beat, I would learn from my mistakes and not get hung up on it,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure to remain humble and not be boastful or anything like that. It was important to keep everything in perspective and remain coachable throughout the entire event. My father said to be “rep-hungry” and not let anyone take more reps than me. I wanted to play for me and not worry about anyone else out there. The whole time I was out there, I wanted to represent God, my family and our values.”

O’Neal’s accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed. He’s received interest from several schools such as NC State, Appalachian State, Old Dominion, East Carolina, and even Ivy League schools like Princeton and Harvard. He’s taken unofficial visits to NC State and Appalachian State and has others planned in the near future. As of now, O’Neal is patiently waiting for his first offer.

“It’s all about what God has planned for me,” he said. “Whoever offers me first, I’ll be thrilled and blessed to receive it.”

Aside from the schools recruiting him, O’Neal noted Alabama and Clemson as two of his favorite programs. He mentioned that he’s loved Alabama since the seventh grade and loves the fact that “teams have to start preparing for them from Week 1.” Clemson stands out because “not many teams in the ACC can compare to the talent and environment that Clemson provides.”

When the offers start coming in for the class of 2015 standout, education will be at the top of the list of things to consider.

“Being a student-athlete is something that’s held very high in our household,” O’Neal said. “The student portion comes first and the athlete comes second. My parents don’t allow me and my siblings to do just enough to get by; that’s always been instilled in us. It’s all about priorities, so I don’t want to go to a school that’s just football, football, football. I want to go somewhere that when I walk out after four or five years, I can say this is the university that I got a degree from and I can get a good job somewhere.”

O’Neal has both the grades and the athleticism to help him excel at the next level. He has plenty to offer to whichever school he decides to attend.

“Number one, I’ll be a great team player,” he said when asked what he could bring to a college program. “I feel like a team with no leaders isn’t really a team. Every program needs leaders, so I’ll definitely bring leadership. They’ll get someone that’s dedicated to the program 100 percent of the time; they won’t have to worry about me missing class or staying out late to party or anything like that. I’ll be a player that carries himself well, keeps everything in perspective and keeps God first at all times.”

O’Neal is a class act on and off the field, but don’t underestimate him. When those pads come on, he’s coming out to bring the punishment.

A.J. O’Neal’s junior highlights: A.J. O’Neal’s Highlights

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