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Martinsville’s William O’Neal endures pain, never quits on his goals
December 14, 2012VYPE MAGAZINE - Central Indiana
By Brian Peloza
For VYPE Magazine (Central Indiana)
Martinsville senior William O’Neal could have given up on his athletic career and not many people would have blinked an eye.
O’Neal endured an ACL tear to the same knee twice in the span of little more than a year, allowing him to play just seven games over his sophomore and junior seasons.
Still, quitting wasn’t an option for O’Neal. After all, if it was a Friday night in the fall, O’Neal only had one activity in which he wanted to participate: Martinsville football.
“He used to follow me around at practice when he was 3 years old,” said O’Neal’s grandfather, former Martinsville coach and Hall of Famer Bill Siderwicz. “When the players would do some of the drills he would blow a whistle he had.”
O’Neal was also ready for additional duties.
“I had a fake play folder and a whistle around my neck and would walk around behind him when the team was doing stretches on the field,” O’Neal said. “During the game when I was little I would stand on the sideline and at the time my dad did stats. I just remember watching the game with my fake play folder and walking around with (his father).”
Several years later O’Neal earned an actual playbook, seeing some varsity playing time as a freshman.
As a sophomore, O’Neal rushed 16 times for 126 yards in the first three games, an average of 7.8 yards per carry.
It was in the fourth game when a long, testing journey would confront O’Neal, who tore his ACL in a game at Terre Haute North.
After roughly a year of rehabilitation, O’Neal was back for his junior season and started it well as a running back and defensive back.
In the first four games he rushed 20 times for 217 yards and scored three touchdowns, averaging nearly 11 yards per carry. He also had 196 receiving yards.
Then, in that fourth game, he intercepted a pass and came down on the surgically repaired knee wrong. He tore his ACL again, this time more severely.
“With the first one I was a young player and I had to get back to get earn my spot back and get back to the level I wanted to play at, O’Neal said. “With the second one it was more serious and meant I only had one more shot at football. The first one was more laid back because I had two more years and still had time to develop, but with the second one I felt I had to come back stronger than I was before because I only had one more shot.”
With the second knee injury came a first: O’Neal not at the Martinsville game, as the timing of his surgery forced him to miss a game, something he even avoided with the first knee surgery.
“I had been to every game since I was three years old,” O’Neal said. “It was one of the worst feeling I’ve ever had - having to sit at home and listen to it on the radio. It was just tough not being there.”
However, the circumstances surrounding his second knee surgery were not simple. Initially, a doctor told O’Neal and his family a procedure should be completed to repair his knee, but it would end his high school athletic career due to recovery time.
Not playing his senior season wasn’t an option for O’Neal. A second doctor agreed to perform a similar surgery as the first to repair his knee.
With that decision came risks to O’Neal’s future plans. He has hopes of being accepted to West Point, and another knee injury would have ended those hopes.
“West Point is something I want to do and there was a risk playing but (Martinsville football) is something I’ve put 12 years of my life into and I didn’t want it to end on an injury in the middle of a game,” O’Neal said. “I wanted to cap it off positively so I was more determined to get back playing and I wanted to end my career on the field.”
O’Neal did just that as one of Martinsville’s standout defensive players, helping the Artesians to a 7-3 overall record and 4-2 in the Mid-States Conference.
As a defensive back, O’Neal compiled 48 tackles, third-most on the team. He also had three tackles for a loss, four pass breakups and one interception.
“He endured a lot and wanted to come back and play his senior season and chose to do that knowing there would be risks involved,” Martinsville Athletics Director Don Lipp said. “I think his toughness and grit, perseverance certainly played a role as a senior leader on our football team.”
Making it through the season healthy and contributing to a winning season was worth the risk associated with the second surgery and the pain endured during rehabilitation.
“It was a very difficult, long journey that took a lot more work than maybe the usual path would take,” O’Neal said. “I just had to be dedicated to playing. It’s something that has always been very important to (his family). It was something we were around all of the time. It’s not that anyone forced me to love it, I was just around it all of the time and it became something I really loved to do and I wanted to be a part of it.”
O’Neal recently interviewed with representatives of Sen. Dan Coats and Rep. Todd Rokita’s staffs, seeking a Congressional nomination for entry into West Point. He should find out by the end of December if he receives a nomination. If he receives a nomination, West Point will notify O’Neal in late-winter or early-spring if he’s been accepted.
If he’s not accepted into West Point, then O’Neal plans to attend Purdue University and participate in the ROTC program.