The season looked like it was the start of something special.
It certainly didn’t finish up that way.
Andre O’Neal, now a senior, was hoping his junior season on the Penn Charter High School football team would be a breaking out year. It would be the year colleges all over would see him perform and offer him a scholarship. But for most of the season, he was relegated to the sidelines due to injuries.
“I had a good camp, then we played Lincoln in our first game and I played really well, I felt good and things were really good,” said O’Neal, a fullback and linebacker from Oxford Circle. “Then we played Lansdale Catholic in Ocean City, and I got a quad contusion. The trainer said it wasn’t bad, but then I got a blood clot and it wouldn’t heal, so every week I was questionable and couldn’t play.
“I came back later in the season and felt good, but then the same thing happened on my other leg. I got another quad contusion on my other leg. When it first happened, I tried to keep playing, no way did I want to come out, but they made me come out and I missed more games.
“I played against Germantown Academy the last week, but that was so late. I was really disappointed. I thought last year was going to be my year.”
Instead of preparing for his next game, most of the time, O’Neal was just trying to find a way to get back on the field.
It was a lot of hard work, and O’Neal gives a lot of credit to his teammates, family and those at Penn Charter.
“The trainer helped me a lot and I was still around the team, so I was there, I just wasn’t playing,” O’Neal said. “I had to have a procedure done where they drew blood. They used a big needle, but it didn’t hurt. It was interesting to me. I was just happy it helped me get better, really.”
Now healthy, he still has the same goal: Get better.
O’Neal has been working hard since last season ended, and he’s fully healthy now and ready to make up for lost time.
And he thinks his play could certainly help the Quakers have a good year. Last year, Penn Charter had a lot of injuries, but still hung tough.
The Quakers jumped out to a 5-0 record, but went on to lose four of their final five games, all Inter-Ac games.
“It wasn’t just me, we had a lot of injuries last year and it hurt us bad,” O’Neal said. “We played tough games, we just didn’t win. Everyone worked hard and did what we were supposed to do, but we lost some games we could have won.”
This year, O’Neal has a chance to show everyone what he can do, and he hopes in the process, he shows everyone what Penn Charter is capable of doing.
“I feel so much stronger, so I’m ready,” said O’Neal, who may also see time on the defensive line this year. “I felt really good, then I started running track and I felt really good. I felt like I was in the best shape ever before we had to stop practicing. I was faster, faster than ever, and now I’m a lot stronger, so that helped.
“I’m big, but I can run. I do field events, but I run a lot in track. That’s helped me get faster for football.”
O’Neal hopes colleges will be just as quick to make him an offer.
Ideally, he’ll play linebacker, but he will do whatever is needed, just as he’s done in high school. He is thinking about a career in business, but during his hiatus from playing last year, he found another skill he’s very good at, and he might pursue that.
“I really started to like photography, so I might try that,” O’Neal said. “When I was injured, I would take pictures for the team. I was using my phone and I got a lot of good ones. That’s something that interests me a lot. I think I want to get into one of those areas.”
No matter where he ends up, he’ll be ready.
O’Neal, who played football growing up, has grown leaps and bounds since starting his career at Penn Charter. He’s done the same with his studies. And even during the pandemic, O’Neal made sure to crack the books so he’d be prepared for his senior year and beyond.
Just as he does with his football skills, he spreads the credit around.
“Penn Charter is a great school, they’ve been very helpful whenever I needed it,” said O’Neal, who does well in school. “I always want to do better. Even when everything was going on, if you couldn’t figure it out, the teachers help. I would talk to them online and I would call them, too. They expect a lot from you, but they do a lot for you. Penn Charter isn’t easy, but they definitely help you when you need it.”
He just hopes he’s able to help the Quakers have a memorable final year.
“I want to get noticed and get a chance to play in college,” O’Neal said. “It was supposed to be last year, but this year I have another chance. I want to stay healthy. We have a really good team. I think we can do well and I want a chance to show everyone what I can do.”