Hard work paying dividends for Sylacauga’s Devin O’Neal
SYLACAUGA- While most high school seniors are on break, Sylacauga’s Devin O’Neal still shows up to the school every day to do work. O’Neal has come to the track every day and braved the cold conditions to work on his craft.

“While other people are taking time off, I can’t,” O’Neal said. “I am out here getting better and faster. I can’t take time off. On days like this, I just have to warm up and run.”

The defending Talladega County champion has not had competition in the 100 and 200 since his 10th grade season. O’Neal has won all his meets in convincing fashion this season.

“I have not lost in the county in the 100 and the 200 since 2011,” O’Neal said. “In the indoor, I came in second in the 400 and I ran 50.7. This is my first year running the 400.”

For the first two years, O’Neal only ran the 100 and the 200 meter dash. This season, he added the 400 meter dash where he finished second in indoor.

“It is a little different endurance-wise,” O’Neal said. “You have to give all you got for a full minute. It is a man-race, it kills you afterwards.”

O’Neal said all three events that he participates in have a different element to it.

“The 100 is over in 10 seconds,” O’Neal said. “In the 200 you have to really go all out to really get somewhere. The 400 is more like give ever you got and in the last 100 meters dash you have to pour it all out.”

Running year-round has really helped O’Neal become one of the best sprinters in the state. During the summer he runs with Bobby Humphries’s AAU team out of Birmingham. Last season, he made to the finals at the Junior Olympics. The senior said he started running track when he was eight years old.

“I started doing Hershey when I was in third, fourth and fifth grade, O’Neal said. I took a long time off then I started back running in eighth grade. I took off in my ninth grade year and started back in my 10th grade year.”

The last two seasons, he has come up short in the finals. O’Neal said falling short is what drives him to work hard.

“It is just a monkey that has been on my back since the 10th grade,” O’Neal said. “I got second in the state both years. I got fifth and third in the 100. I just want to win first in one of them.”

In the past few seasons, O’Neal didn’t see tough competition until the sectionals, but that’s not the case this season. On Saturday, he will compete against some of the other best sprinters in the state.

“The Homewood Invitational is on Saturday”, O’Neal said. “I am running the 100, 200 and the 400. I am kind of excited because of the competition. I normally don’t get competition until sectionals or state. It will be good for me to run against the people I ran against in indoor season and see what they have in outdoor.”

O’Neal’s efforts on the track haven’t gone unnoticed.

“Devin is a great runner and will only get better at the college level,” Sylacauga head coach Jeff Steers said. “He ran a 50.76 in indoor to finish second in the state meet. He runs a 22 in the 200m and a 10.8 in 100.”

He has drawn interest from several college teams.

“I got offers from Southern and Grambling,” O’Neal said. “I have interest from North Carolina A&T and Alabama State.”

The 6-foot-4 inch sprinter knows that the opportunities that he has in front of him would not be possible without being blessed and his family.

“I just take it one day at a time,” O’Neal said. “I want to thank God. I want thank my mom and my dad- they put me in a place where I can succeed.”

© 2013