The last time Matthew O’Neal traveled overseas was during his junior year of high school when he flew to London to try out for a West Ham
Now entering his senior year of college at USF, O’Neal will once again travel overseas where he will compete as one of two U.S. athletes in the triple jump in the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea from July 10-12.
“There is not a better athlete to represent USF and the United States than Matthew,” USF coach Warren Bye said in a statement. “He’s going to get an unbelievable experience competing against the world and spending time in a foreign country.”
In the time since his trip to London, O’Neal embraced both soccer and track, playing both sports throughout high school and his first three years at USF.
But after enduring three years of injuries and busy schedules, O’Neal has decided not to play soccer his senior season.
“It came down to it being a lot on my body and my schedule,” O’Neal said. “Previously I was pretty good at time management, but soccer still got in the way of going to church and being able to devote my life to God as I really want to. Also, this next semester I’ll have six classes, so it would be tough to balance everything.”
Without the burden of playing a fall sport, O’Neal will have the ability to compete in events such as the World University Games without having to worry about other training.
“I have a tendency to be injury-prone, but over the summer I switch from track to soccer without a break,” O’Neal said.“You’re using different muscle groups and everything. Last year, I had a (track) competition in August, and when I came back, it was preseason for soccer and I had an injury to my thigh. So that’s when I started thinking about it, and toward the end of the season is when I told my coaches it would be my last season.”
O’Neal most recently dealt with a left leg injury that nearly prevented him from reaching the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which he has reached in every season at USF.
But he said he’ll be healthy for the World University Games because he’s seeing the results on the track.
“This week we went out to do some jumping,” O’Neal said. “I’ve been working on my first phase and that’s gotten a lot better, I’m seeing good results. I’ve been able to get a lot more speed than I have been in the past, so I’m feeling better with running and that definitely turns into better distance for the triple jump.”
O’Neal has been the most consistent member of the men’s track and field team since arriving on campus and with his focus now entirely on track, only time will tell how much more he can accomplish in his final season at USF, starting with the World University Games.
“It’s an enormous opportunity and an enormous blessing as well,” O’Neal said. “I thank God for being chosen to that team because they only chose two triple jumpers to come along with them. So to be one of those two and represent the U.S.A., it’s a big deal.”