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East Hall grad playing pro football in Germany

POSTED: August 18, 2010 9:25 p.m.
For The Times/

East Hall High graduate Patrick O'Neal listens to his defensive coach during a game earlier this year while playing for the Berlin Adler of the German Football League. O'Neal has had a successful career playing football in a part of the world known for a different type football.

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Patrick O’Neal has always been blessed with the ability to carve his own path in life without feeling the need to follow the status quo.

Blessed with a body built for playing football — 6-foot-2 and about 230 pounds — and a natural curiosity about the world around him, O’Neal, a 2004 East Hall High graduate, struck out on his own to take a shot in 2009 at a professional football career in Germany.

It’s not the normal transition for players from smaller colleges after their playing career is over, but O’Neal, now 24, has never felt obligated to take the normal progression immediately into the working world after college.

And it’s a decision O’Neal doesn’t second guess.

“I think everyone that grows up playing a sport one day dreams of playing professionally,” O’Neal said in an e-mail earlier this week. “I’m just grateful for this opportunity of achieving what I wanted to do as a kid.”

O’Neal, a starting linebacker for the Berlin Adler in the German Football League, which goes by NCAA rules, has realistic expectations for his professional career. He isn’t chasing a career back in the US playing in the NFL as the ultimate prize, even though he would surely give it a shot if the opportunity arose.

Right now, O’Neal is soaking it all in by living abroad and taking in all that Germany and the rest of Europe have to offer. He’s seen almost all of Germany as a two-year member of the Adler. O’Neal’s also traveled to France, Finland, Czech Republic and Austria. As a result of such an extended time overseas, O’Neal, a graduate of Union College, can also speak some broken German, but has found most of the population in Germany can speak varying degrees of English.

“To my surprise, I found that Germany is very Americanized because of the American influence after the war,” O’Neal said.

However, his football career in Germany has not been an attempt to simply see more of the globe. The Adler’s starting linebacker is very serious about football. This season, O’Neal has 88 tackles (58 solo tackles), three sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception for Berlin, which is currently 12-2 on the season.

The highlight of O’Neal’s career is winning the Eurobowl this season — the championship game of the European Football League — with a 34-31 win against the Raiffeisen Vikings on July 4. Tied 31-all with three seconds left on the game clock, Berlin kicked a 52-yard field goal to win the title. Now, O’Neal has his sights set on winning the German Bowl to become back-to-back champions.

That’s the reward players in the league hope for with all the work that goes into preparing for the week-to-week grind of the schedule. “This is just great to be able to sit back and watch Patrick live his dream,” said his father, Mike O’Neal.

“He’s a very determined, very regimented individual.”

Preparing to play at the European football level certainly isn’t easy. There are hours every day spent in the weight room and practicing. On top of that, there’s time studying up on the upcoming opponent to decipher tendencies and strengths. His father says that Patrick has always had a tremendous work ethic along with being blessed with the physique to play football. Even when he was in high school and playing with the Vikings, he would eat a diet centered around protein to stay in playing shape.

Now, he’s being paid to professionally play the game he loves. O’Neal says players are compensated with a salary and have housing, vehicle and subway costs covered. The only expense they are responsible for is food.

O’Neal first got hooked up with the opportunity to play in Europe from a position coach while he was serving as a graduate assistant during the 2008 season. Even though he was happy teaching the game, he knew the drive was still there to play.

“Once the season was over, I asked our receivers coach about playing overseas because he coached a year in NFL Europe,” O’Neal said. “He knew people, so I sent a tape over and then it all came down to the fact if I was good enough and fit into the team’s scheme.”

Once O’Neal arrived in Germany, his independent streak and natural curiosity for his surroundings kicked in. The second day in Berlin, he hopped on the subway and explored the city and avoided getting lost. He found there’s a little bit of everything for an American, including a movie theater that shows movies in English, outdoor activities and night life. Players also spend time socializing at each others homes.

“A lot of days, I will go sightseeing and try to learn more about Berlin,” O’Neal said.

He even got to show his family around on a visit to Germany. Michael O’Neal enjoyed just getting to pal around with Patrick — the youngest of his five children.

“Patrick is the type that if he wants to do something, he’s going to go after it,” his father said. “He’s using the gifts God blessed him with to the fullest.”

Of course, being away from home does leave O’Neal missing home on occasions. There’s family, including his four older siblings, friends, girlfriend and his dog, Saddie. However, he’ll get reconnected with all of them when he arrives home after the season ends in September.

After that, he plans on working as a special education teacher, though he hasn’t lined up a school to work for yet. His longterm goal in life is to coach and teach. However, football comes first as long as O’Neal feels he’s still got the talent.

“I really don’t know how long I am planning on playing,” O’Neal said. “It just depends on how my body feels and if I still can play up to the level that is expected of me.”



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