Finishing third in the state in the long jump was a big surprise for T.C. O’Neal.

The Columbus East senior was tied for the No. 15 seed going into the meet and was sitting in seventh place going into his sixth and final attempt. But he popped a personal-best 22 feet, 11½ inches to move into third.

“I was hoping just to get on the podium,” O’Neal said. “I didn’t think I’d get top three.”

For his efforts, O’Neal is this year’s The Republic Boys Track Athlete of the Year.

Story continues below gallery

While O’Neal may not have seen his third-place finish coming, his coach, David Miller, had faith in him.

“It wasn’t a surprise,” Miller said. “We knew he was capable of jumping into the 22s and even into the 23s. I knew he was definitely capable of placing high and jumping well.”

The long jump wasn’t the only event at which O’Neal succeeded this season. He also qualified for state in the high jump and tied for 17th at 6-2.

Late in the regular season, O’Neal broke the school record with a 6-7½ jump in the Seymour Invitational.

“I thought about going 6-7 when I was a freshman,” O’Neal said. “I was always joking and telling my coach I was going to break the record, and then I ended up doing it, so that was awesome.”

O’Neal also qualified for the regional in the 400 meters. He was on the Olympians’ 4×400 relay team for most of the season before Miller switched him to the 4×100 relay late in the year.

That 4×100 relay team also made it to regional.

“T.C. had a great season,” Miller said. “We asked a lot of him, and he never once complained. He did four events all year for us pretty much up until regional, and he kept improving.”

At the moment, it looks like O’Neal’s competitive athletic career may be over. He was a three-year starter at linebacker in football and the second-leading tackler on the Class 5A state runner-up team as a senior and had considered joining his brother Steven on the Marshall football squad. But T.C. O’Neal recently decided to enlist in the Air Force. He said he wants to do something with electronics or perhaps electrical engineering.

At a glance

The Republic All-Area Boys Track team:

T.C. O’Neal, Columbus East: The senior finished third in the state in the long jump and tied for 17th in the high jump an also was a regional qualifier in the 400 and 4×100 relay.

Mitchell Burton, Columbus North: The senior finished eighth at state in the long jump and 23rd in the 100 and ran on the 14th-place 4×100 relay team.

Coleman Tennyson, Columbus North: The senior finished 10th at state in the shot put.

Brigham Kleinhenz, Columbus North: The junior finished 12th at state in the pole vault.

Charlie Allen, Columbus North: The junior finished 18th at state in the 3,200.

Cortez Bandy, Columbus North: The junior ran on the 4×100 relay team that finished 14th at state and was a regional qualifier in the long jump.

Jaylen Flemmons, Columbus North: The junior ran on the 4×100 relay team that finished 14th at state and was a regional qualifier in the 400.

Damon Hunter Jr., Columbus North: The junior ran on the 4×100 relay team that finished 14th at state.

Wyatt Wyman, Brown County: The junior finished 14th at state in the 800 and ran on the 12th-place 4×800 relay team.

Job Lawson, Brown County: The senior ran on the 4×800 relay team that finished 12th at state.

Jackson McPheeters, Brown County: The sophomore ran on the 4×800 relay team that finished 12th at state.

Isaiah Keefauver, Brown County: The junior ran on the 4×800 relay team that finished 12th at state.

Dalton Craig, Jennings County: The junior finished 25th at state in the 1,600.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Dawson Williams. Columbus East: Paul Bean, Jared Clark, Zach Clark, Kolby Mitchell, Isaac VanCurren, Corde Yarbrough. Columbus North: Logan Abbott, Elijah Brooks, Sam Horak, Triston Perry, Hunter Wolford. Hauser: Pete Trotter. Jennings County: Blaich Blanton, Isaiah Ertel, Doug Gerringer, Chase Ketcham, Carter Leak, Franklin Sanders. South Decatur: Nick Benge, Brandon Malott. Trinity Lutheran: AJ Goecker, Matt McKay.

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.