I first met Keith O'Neil as he and his friends apologized to a sobbing second-grade girl for smashing her Halloween pumpkins, which she had slaved over the previous night.
That second-grade girl was me. I grew up across the street from Keith and the O'Neil family, and our families have been friends ever since the Halloween incident.
As a special teams player and backup linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, O'Neil will be going to the Super Bowl this year. When asked how it felt to be going to such an event, he said in an e-mail: "It's amazing! It's really difficult to put into words, I'm just really excited."
Just as the Colts overcame many obstacles to win the AFC championship in their game against the New England Patriots, O'Neil has overcome many of his own in his football career. "I have learned so much from playing in the NFL. I have learned to believe in yourself and to never give up," he said.
O'Neil started playing football in seventh grade and continued playing through high school at Sweet Home. He attended Northern Arizona University, where he played at the Division I AA level. He was a starter at Northern Arizona and a two-time All-Big Sky first team selection. Although O'Neil has said he has wanted to play in the NFL for as long as he can remember, it wasn't until his senior year of college that his mother, Nancy O'Neil, knew he was definitely set on playing. "It had always been a dream of his," says Mrs. O'Neil. However, having a family that is highly involved in football, she knew the odds of Keith playing in the NFL. (His father Ed played for seven years in the NFL.) His parents now live in Pendleton.
To anyone who dreams of a career in football, O'Neil suggests exactly what he learned through playing in the NFL: "Never give up and believe in yourself." These words of advice were vital for O'Neil as he began his NFL career. He was not drafted into the NFL; instead he had to try out with his first team, the Dallas Cowboys, and was not guaranteed a spot. O'Neil did make the team and was cut after two years. The day after he was cut, he received a call from the Colts. He once again was not guaranteed a spot; however, after going to training camp with the Colts, he made the team.
"The No. 1 thing I have learned is how to overcome adversity," says O'Neil about his four years in the NFL. Lucky for Keith, he has had his family's support throughout all his years of playing football. Mrs. O'Neil has said: "It's very hard to get where he is."
While he played at Arizona, someone from the O'Neil family, whether it be his mother, father, brother, or sister, would always be at Keith's home games. "He has always come to his family for support," his mother says.
The Colts left Monday for Miami to prepare to take on the Chicago Bears this Sunday. O'Neil has said that he will be down in Miami to play and to win. "I am inspired to play because I love what I do," said Keith.
Brianne Gallie is a senior at Sweet Home.