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Missouri football player, Aaron O'Neal, age 19


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  • Missouri football player, Aaron O'Neal, age 19

    Posted on Wed, Jul. 13, 2005


    MU player dies after workout
    Linebacker O’Neal collapses on field

    By MIKE DeARMOND The Kansas City Star

    Aaron O’Neal, a 19-year-old Missouri redshirt freshman linebacker from suburban St. Louis, died Tuesday, hours after he collapsed during a voluntary conditioning workout in Columbia.

    A cause of death has not been determined; an autopsy will be performed.

    The hourlong workout, run by Missouri director of strength and conditioning Pat Ivey, was strictly for conditioning. The 12 players in attendance were in shorts and shirts and not in pads. No football plays were run.

    Workouts such as this are common at major college programs. And in accordance with NCAA regulations regarding offseason conditioning programs, no football coaches — including Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel — were present.

    Pinkel, who was out of town at the time of the workout, expressed sadness in a statement released by the university late Tuesday night.

    “I can’t begin to express how deeply saddened we are by the loss,” Pinkel said. “Aaron was a quality young man who was well-liked and respected by his teammates and coaches. We are all very shocked and hurt right now, but the most important thing we can do is to focus on Aaron’s family and to assist them in any way we can.”

    Details of what happened on the field to O’Neal, who attended Parkway North High in Creve Coeur, are sketchy.

    The Web site of the Columbia Daily Tribune, in an 18-picture slide show, appears to show how O’Neal collapsed near the end of the workout but was helped to his feet and led off the field with the aid of an unidentified trainer. O’Neal is then seen high-fiving his teammates at the end of practice (again, with a trainer present) before being helped off the field by teammate Darren Meade.

    The Daily Tribune was one of a few media outlets observing the conditioning drills. Tuesday marked the first time media had been allowed to watch the event.

    Missouri sports information director Chad Moller said Tuesday evening that he could not confirm specifics of what transpired. But when asked whether O’Neal had seemed to be struggling near the end of the workout at Memorial Stadium, Moller said: “The net gist is fairly right, but I don’t know if all the details are.”

    University of Missouri Health Care spokesman Mary Jenkins announced shortly after 8 p.m. that O’Neal had died.

    Members of O’Neal’s immediate family could not be reached for comment. Bob Bunton, O’Neal’s high school coach, told The Associated Press that O’Neal was living out his dream.

    “That’s all the kid wanted to do, was play for Missouri,” Bunton said. “He was so happy and doing so well. I just feel bad for his family.”

    O’Neal is the son of Lonnie and Deborah O’Neal. His older brother, Nick, attended Missouri. When he signed a scholarship to attend Missouri, O’Neal mentioned his brother’s presence and the closeness to home as reasons he chose MU over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas State and Illinois.

    “It felt good,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in November of 2003, “because this is where I wanted to go.”

    O’Neal first drew attention to his football skills as a sophomore running back at Parkway North.

    In a victory over DeSmet, O’Neal gained 233 yards on 31 carries. A week later he set a school record with 254 yards rushing in a loss to Webster Groves, scoring on runs of 18, 68 and 54 yards.

    As a junior, O’Neal ran for 1,207 yards on 231 carries, scoring 14 touchdowns.

    O’Neal, according to a feature story in the Post-Dispatch, then embraced a lifting and conditioning program to put on 15 pounds of muscle — opening his senior season at 6-2 and 210 pounds.

    “I just want to get better every day, every week,” O’Neal said at that time.

    This summer, according to information on MU’s Web site, O’Neal had been measured at 6-3 and 220 pounds.

    O’Neal earned Class 5A all-state honors in football his senior year. At Missouri, O’Neal became a linebacker. He opened spring drills, after an impressive redshirt season when he was limited only to practice, No. 3 on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

    Whether heat was a contributing factor in O’Neal’s death — the high temperature in Columbia on Tuesday was 89 degrees —may not be known until the autopsy is completed.

    Missouri officials said they will investigate the incident. For now, they are attempting to deal with the stunning news of O’Neal’s death.

    “It’s hard right now to find the words that communicate the heartache that everyone in the Missouri family is feeling,” athletic director Mike Alden said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Aaron’s family and his teammates, who are all dealing with something that is really hard to understand.”

    To reach Mike DeArmond, Missouri reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4353 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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