Although he played a little running back and receiver for Columbus East last year, Steven O’Neal played in the shadow of Indiana Mr. Football Markell Jones.
O’Neal’s brother T.C., meanwhile, entered the 2015 season as a relative unknown. But through all but one game of the regular season, the O’Neals have stood out in a big way for the Olympians, who are 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 5A.
Steven O’Neal, a senior, is coming off his best game of the season. He ran for 278 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-21 win at Jeffersonville that allowed East to clinch at least a share of its 12th consecutive Hoosier Hills Conference title.
“We knew Steven had some talent at tailback,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “He was behind a pretty good guy last year. We put him in a two-back set last year, where he and Markell were both in there, and Steven had some very good production. So we were excited about him coming in this year as our main tailback.”
Despite missing a game with a knee injury, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Steven O’Neal has run for 1,086 yards on 112 carries — a 9.7-yard average — and has 14 touchdowns.
“I didn’t even know I had reached 1,000,” Steven O’Neal said. “I don’t set personal goals, just team goals. I’m just worried about winning as a team.”
“He’s a guy that’s always worked very hard in the offseason,” Gaddis said. “He’s strong, fast, has great balance. He has all the tools.”
Meanwhile, T.C. O’Neal, a junior, leads the Olympians with five sacks from his outside linebacker position. He ranks second on the team with 64 tackles and eight tackles for losses.
T.C. O’Neal, who also plays on five of East’s special teams units, earned the BSN Sports High School Athlete of the Week award following a 10-tackle performance in a Sept. 25 win against Floyd Central.
“He’s been a real leader for us,” Gaddis said. “In practice, he does a great job. He’s a guy that works hard. He’s done a great job defensively, and he’s been a dominant player on special teams.”
Last year, T.C. O’Neal saw some action as a free safety/outside linebacker in the Olympians’ nickel package.
“(Coaches) put me in just for blitzes, so I knew I was going to blitz a lot this year,” T.C. O’Neal said. “I knew I was going to get a bunch of tackles, but I didn’t think I’d get this many. I take pride in running fast and being like a missile.”
The 6-2, 165-pound T.C. O’Neal has even played a little middle linebacker this year when two-time All-State senior Sam Dwenger was dinged up.
“(T.C. O’Neal) put in probably 15 pounds and had a great offseason in the weight room, so we had some pretty high expectations for him, and he hasn’t let us down,” Gaddis said. “He might be the best hitter on our football team. He’s a very physical player.”
The O’Neals took a few college visits over the summer, including trips to TCU and Marshall. Steven O’Neal, who runs a 4.45 40-yard dash, is projected as a safety or cornerback at the next level.
On Friday, Steven O’Neal and his senior teammates will be honored on senior night when East hosts Bedford North Lawrence.
“Coaches told us this is our last guaranteed home game, so that hit me kind of hard,” Steven O’Neal said.
The Olympians will visit Franklin in the opening round of the sectional next week then would host 5A No. 6 Whiteland in the sectional semifinals the following week. If East wins, it would likely play 5A No. 1 New Palestine in the sectional final.
“We have to take it one game at a time and make sure we don’t overlook any teams in our way,” T.C. O’Neal said.
Name: Steven O’Neal
School: Columbus East
Position: Running back
Key stats: 112 carries for 1,086 yards and 14 touchdowns; five receptions for 44 yards
Name: T.C. O’Neal
School: Columbus East
Position: Outside linebacker
Key stats: 64 tackles, including eight for losses, and five sacks