Former Buc O'Neill hopes NFL comes calling
Jul 21, 2015 at 11:52 AM
It wasn’t the senior year he was envisioning, but Dann O’Neill made the most of it.
O’Neill, a 2007 Grand Haven High School graduate, recently wrapped up his senior season as an offensive lineman for the Western Michigan University football team.
The Broncos entered the season with lofty expectations, but struggled to a 4-8 record. The season culminated with WMU’s coach, Bill Cubit, being fired with one year left on his contract.
While the team struggled to find consistency, O’Neill was an anchor at right tackle, starting all 12 games for the Broncos. For his career, O’Neill started all 35 games for WMU.
For his efforts, the 6-foot-8, 307-pound O’Neill was named first-team all-Mid American Conference earlier this week.
“My dad (Jim O’Neill) texted me (Wednesday) morning, probably as soon as the list came out,” Dann O’Neill said. “I think he was waiting for it to come out.
“The season was disappointing. We set goals in preseason camp, and we wanted to win the MAC. To end up with a 4-8 record was disappointing for a lot of reasons. If you look at the talent pool, we definitely have some of the most talented players, both on offense and defense, that we’ve had in a long time. It’s just disappointing with all this talent to finish with a 4-8 record.”
There were some positives that O’Neill took out of the season, especially a come-from-behind 42-31 win at “that school up north,” Central Michigan, on Nov. 3.
He lists that win as one of the highlights of his career at WMU.
“My No. 1 memory was the times we beat Central, this year and last year,” O’Neill said. “The most memorable one was at their place this year. We were down heading into the fourth quarter and we rallied back and won at their place. It was the first time since the early 2000’s, and only the second time ever, we’ve won in Mt. Pleasant.”
Another highlight was a visit to Michigan Stadium in 2011. O’Neill originally committed to the Wolverines and spent one year in Ann Arbor before transferring to WMU.
“The Michigan game last year was a lot of fun to go back there as a visiting team and play against them,” O’Neill said. “I wish the score could have ended up a little better.”
The Wolverines won that game, 34-10.
With the season over and no bowl game to prepare for, O’Neill is suddenly thrust into a strange situation — he has spare time.
“Techically, I’m not on the team any more now that the season’s done,” O’Neill said. “Everyone who’s coming back, they’re all getting in workouts with the strength coach. Guys like myself, (quarterback) Alex (Carder), we’re just working out, but nothing mandatory.
“It’s kind of wiered, getting texts from buddies who have to work out so they can’t go to a movie tonight. It’s strange because that’s something I’ve been doing for half my life, and now somebody comes along and says, by the way, you’re not doing it any more.”
O’Neill hopes his football career isn’t over, and his goal is to now devote himself toward his next goal: The NFL. O’Neill is a strong candidate to be selected in the NFL Draft next April.
If that happens, he’d be the second Grand Haven High School graduate in two years to be drafted. John Potter, also a WMU grad, was taken in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills this past year.
“I’ve got a shot, so I’m going to take it,” O’Neill said. “I’ve got some good opportunities ahead of me. I’ll go somewhere this offseason to train. I’ll probably head out in January. I haven’t decided where yet because I haven’t picked an agent, but once I do, I’ll go wherever they send me.
“Hopefully i’ll get an invite to the combine and the Senior Bowl.”
O’Neill has seen his name in various draft projections, but he’s not paying any attention to it. He knows that his path to the NFL is through hard work and determination, not through a sense of entitlement.
He said that’s a mistake he made once in his career, and he doesn’t intend to make it again.
“I’ve heard a lot of stuff, but I don’t really pay it any mind, because then it just gets into your mind and screws you up,” he said. “If I see that I’m projected to go in the fifth round, then I don’t have to worry about working hard anymore. That’s not how it happens.
“I made that mistake the first time around when I went to Michigan. I bought into the hype and didn’t work as hard as I needed to, and I paid the price.”
O’Neill was one of the top offensive line prospects in the nation coming out of high school. He committed to his childhood favorites — the Michigan Wolverines and coach Lloyd Carr — during his junior season at Grand Haven.
However, Carr resigned and new coach Rich Rodriguez took over before O’Neill got to Ann Arbor. He redshirted his freshman year, then decided a change of scenery was needed, so he transferred to Western Michigan University. His brother, Jim O’Neill, was also a member of the Broncos’ football squad at the time, as were former Buccaneers Potter and Phill Swanson.
Dann is the son of Jim O'Neill and Sue Collins.