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SaberCat clawing his way back: Former Buckeye Jamario O’Neal is back in the game

Courtesy of MCT

If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.

That goes for former Buckeye safety Jamario O’Neal as he continues his career in the Arena Football League with the San Jose SaberCats.

A native of Mansfield, Ohio, O’Neal moved to Cleveland and played his final two years of high school at Glenville High School. O’Neal was the first commitment of the Buckeyes’ 2005 recruiting class.

His career at Ohio State, however, never panned out.

“I didn’t do the little things and stay on the grind that got me to that point,” O’Neal said. “I had a lot going in my life with school and everything, and I just kind of lost my passion for football.”

O’Neal was an All-Ohio team selection his junior and senior years of high school. His senior year garnered him a Parade All-America honor before he came to OSU.

Four years later, after splitting time at safety and cornerback with the Buckeyes, O’Neal amassed 49 tackles, one forced fumble, one interception and two passes defended.

His recruiting class also included Kansas City Chiefs’ safety Donald Washington, New Orleans Saints’ cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and Washington Redskins’ defensive back Anderson Russell in the secondary with him.

“Just thinking about all the times I could’ve done extra films, gassers (and) time in the weight room, I had talent but didn’t work hard,” he said. “You had guys like Malcolm and Donald who worked hard and had talent.”

After being suspended for the Spring Game and first two games of 2008 for a team violation, O’Neal didn’t make it back into the starting rotation.

O’Neal worked out during Pro Day, but no one offered him a contract during the NFL Draft. He spent the next two years out of football, until he got a phone call from his agent in October 2010 regarding the SaberCats and another chance on the field.

“I had time to reflect while I was away,” he said.

He immediately began to study the team playbook and prepare for the faster pace of the indoor game.

“I was out of football for damned near two years,” he said. “Adjusting to the mental aspect was easy. With the physical aspect, that is something that you have to work on everyday.”

After missing the first four games of the season with a strained hamstring, O’Neal had an immediate impact with a forced fumble and recovery in his first game against the Tulsa Talons.

“Jamario brought real good enthusiasm,” teammate Mervin Brookins said. “He turns it on when he gets on the field.”

In week seven, O’Neal had an interception return for a touchdown in a 68-61 win against the Philadelphia Soul.

Since then, he’s had 11.5 tackles, nine of which were solo in three games for the 5-3 SaberCats.

Having proved his playing abilities to everyone who said he was a bust, O’Neal is confident when talking about his future after football.

“After this: big things. I just need to stay focused,” he said.

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