O'Neill plays varied roles at Towson Senior hopes offense gains consistency

October 16, 1991|By John W. Stewart

John O'Neill could be excused for thinking his college football career hasn't been all it was supposed to be.

O'Neill, a Towson State senior, came out of Atholton High School after a 13-touchdown senior season in which he was Howard County Player of the Year.

That was in 1986, but it wasn't until three weeks ago that he scored his first collegiate touchdown.

In between, there was a redshirt season, a reserve role, a season starting at strong safety and a year lost because of injury.

"That first touchdown [a 1-yard run against Rhode Island] was a great feeling," he said yesterday. "To have waited so long, and to finally get it. . ."

The 6-foot, 200-pound fullback got a second one Saturday on a 3-yard run against James Madison and has 32 carries for 205 yards, a 6.4 average. Of those 32 rushes, he was hit for a loss

only twice.

"We've been inconsistent," O'Neill said of his team's 0-5 start. "In the first game, we drove the ball well, but couldn't score [except for a safety and third-quarter touchdown in a 10-8 loss to Boston University].

"The last game, the offense played well the second half, but it has been up-and-down."

The Tigers scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns, and O'Neill said this effort will carry over when they play at Northeastern (3-2) Saturday.

"Last week, we were down 14-0 so quickly and then 21-0; it was tough to come back. You try not to get down, but it's hard. We have to get something started -- go out and take control.

"The important thing is to establish some rhythm. I get into a game by being out there awhile, a good solid drive. When you go three downs and out, it seems like you're not really in the game."

O'Neill, a team captain, has seen games from all sides. As a freshman backup fullback, he had three carries for 17 yards, caught one pass for 15 yards and was one of the special-team leaders with nine tackles.

He was moved to defense for his sophomore season and started most of the games at strong safety. He led the team in fumble recoveries and had 36 tackles.

In spring 1990, he was brought back to offense. In 1987-88, the Tigers ran a one-back offense with Dave Meggett, but with that gifted runner gone, coach Phil Albert went to a two-back set.

O'Neill's initial part in that scheme lasted slightly more than 30 minutes of the 1990 season opener at Rhode Island, before he went down and out with an injury to his right knee.

He did not practice last spring, but went through a rehabilitation program.

"After I took that first hit in the opener, I was fine," O'Neill said. "I still wear a brace, but it gives me confidence."

O'Neill has not played in a winning game since midway in his sophomore year.

"It's hard on everyone," he said. "We have a good team. I don't know why things haven't gone better.

"We've been in enough tough situations, something good is bound to happen. Just let us see what it's like to win one, to get over that hump."

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