Getting to know Tennessee's class of 2007: No. 17, WR Kenny O'Neal

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Introducing No. 17 in Tennessee’s class of 2007, lightning-fast wide receiver Kenny O’Neal.

Not former NFL tight end Kenny O’Neal (that would be his father), but this Kenny O’Neal:

The Saga

Kenny O’Neal began his athletic career at Benedictine Military Academy while living with his grandparents in Savannah, Georgia. As a sophomore trackster in high school, he won the 100-meter state championship. Halfway through his junior year, O’Neal moved to Oakland, California and enrolled at Skyline High School.  As a Skyline senior, O’Neal caught 35 passes for 850 yards and 20 touchdowns and added four more touchdowns on returns. He was rated as a four-star player by Rivals, and Scout considered him the 8th-best wide receiver in the nation. He strongly considered Southern Cal and Georgia (as well as LSU and Oregon), but ended up signing with Florida State to play football and run track. The fact that FSU went all the way to the west coast when the state of Florida is so talent-rich speaks volumes about O’Neal’s desirability factor.

O’Neal’s stint at FSU started badly and didn’t improve. Initially, his arrival on campus was met with an investigation into his eligibility by the NCAA Clearinghouse. That turned out to be nothing, but it made him miss all of preseason practice and ultimately led to the dreaded redshirt. O'Neal played 11 games the next season as a redshirt freshman, starting two of them, and caught five passes for 110 yards, including FSU’s longest play from scrimmage, a 75-yard reception against Syracuse. He also averaged 24 yards on 21 kickoff returns for the Seminoles. On the track, O’Neal earned All-American honors as the anchor of the 400-meter relay team, which finished seventh in the nation.

The spring after his redshirt freshman season, Florida State dismissed O’Neal from the team for "conduct detrimental to the team." The Seminoles did not elaborate about the nature of the offense, but it apparently did not involve illegal activity. O’Neal says that his "loss of focus" resulted in the revocation of his scholarship. "You go in thinking it’s going to be one way and it’s something else," O’Neal said. "So, for me, the best decision was to leave."

O’Neal moved back to California and enrolled in the City College of San Francisco, where he is apparently a changed man, perhaps due in part to the rigorous schedule and commute his new situation required. The official Tennessee site reports that O’Neal had 60 receptions for 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns at CCSF, but most of the articles say that he had only 48 catches for 707 yards and four TDs. According to the UT site, O’Neal also recorded 12 catches for 229 yards and two TDs in the championship game. Whatever the case, the dismissal from FSU and the time spent at the junior college has been a valuable learning experience. "I've learned to make better decisions," said O'Neal. "I've changed."

Trek to Tennessee

While O’Neal was toiling away at junior college, Tennessee was re-establishing itself as Wide Receiver U, with Robert Meachem having a record year and cohorts Jayson Swain and Bret Smith enjoying great success. So when O’Neal was ready to jump back to the big-time, he took notice of the fact that Tennessee was basically losing its entire receiving corps and therefore had a need for speed.

That Meachem, Swain, and Smith were gone was really all O’Neal needed to know, and he committed to the Volunteers even before taking his official visit. It didn’t hurt that Tennessee was developing a "monster class" for 2007, that O’Neal had family in Nashville and Atlanta, and that Tennessee’s willingness to play young players meant that O’Neal would have an opportunity to make the most of his remaining two years of eligibility. Nothing Nebraska, Kansas State, or Minnesota could say could entice him to accept their scholarship offers.

Speed!

Everybody and their cousin has speed nowadays. Four point four forty times are now ho-hum. A prospect can only get to that "other level" by posting something in the 4.3s.

But 4.2? Yeah. 4.26, according to Scout. 4.20, according to O’Neal. 4.20. Somebody say woo.

O’Neal won the California Interscholastic Federation 100-meter title in high school, clocking a 10.34 and beating his nearest competition by a staggering .19 seconds. He holds the nation’s fastest indoor 60-meter time (6.68) and, as I mentioned earlier, was an All-American at FSU.

But make no mistake, O’Neal isn’t one of those track guys that runs by defensive backs and safeties only to realize that he can’t actually catch a football while moving that fast. No, according to his juco coach, O’Neal "is a football player that can run track and not a track guy that plays football."

Such track speed on the football field presents a real problem for defenses. Bump-and-run had better become flatten-and-pin, because a defender will not win the "run" against O'Neal if he doesn't t win the "bump." O’Neal is also versatile because he has played both corner and safety on defense in addition to wide receiver. Any ego problem he may have had is gone, according to his juco coach:

He is such a good team player. He came in here with the high-profile guy that he was and the background that he came in with. He said, "Coach you can use me anywhere I can help the team." Sometimes you get transfers, especially the high-profile guys, and they all think they are doing you a favor for being there. He is the opposite. He just wants the team to win and then have another opportunity at Division-I play.

Scout gives O’Neal only four stars. Rivals, though, gives him five and that elusive 6.1 Rivals Rating, which means that, to Rivals, O’Neal is a "Franchise Player," or "one of the elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation's top 25 players overall; deemed to have excellent pro potential; high-major prospect."

I like the sound of that.

Rocky Top Talk Mnemonic

All teams have speed now
But a four point two zero?
That’s just wicked fast
Kenny O'Neal, welcome to Tennessee!
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