CYPRESS — Leon O’Neal has gone from knucklehead to knocking heads. He’s still causing trouble, only now the four-star safety from Houston Cypress Springs is terrorizing defenses across the Houston area. And colleges have taken notice.
O’Neal, a 6-1, 195-pound strong safety, holds 31 offers. He’s the No. 29-ranked player on the Fabulous 55, the No. 77-ranked overall prospect in the nation and the No. 6-ranked safety in the 2018 class, per 247Sports’ composite ratings.
The gravity of his looming college decision isn’t lost on O’Neal.
“My biggest fear is not never making it. My biggest fear is getting to the top and not living up to that potential and becoming average,” O’Neal said. “I have an opportunity to do something big and I’m not going to let anyone, including myself, take that away. My mother deserves better. I’ve put her through enough.”
Football is an outlet for O’Neal. He’s open about “messing up in his past” though he doesn’t go into detail about the specifics. He’s not shy about wearing those scars the same way he wears a football helmet. They’re a part of who he is, good and bad.
“I had an anger in my heart and I get to show that on the field,” O’Neal said. “I don’t like to lose. I’m a competitor. Football allows me that chance to get it out.”
O’Neal put opposing ball carriers through ice baths during his junior season. The hard-hitting safety was named second-team all-district after recording 87 tackles, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two interceptions. He’s already earned an invitation to The Opening Finals this summer in Oregon, a showcase of the nation’s top talent.
“We watched him his freshman season and noticed his energy, enthusiasm and passion for the game,” said Rick Cobia, Cypress Springs’ head coach. “I knew if he developed into muscle we’d have a good football player. It’s worked out well for him.
“He’s a passionate player and a vocal leader,” Cobia continued. “He doesn’t accept his teammates playing around during drills and not paying attention. He holds his teammates accountable.”
O’Neal looks at his teammates like family. Maybe he’s hard on them, but only out of love. He moved to Cy Springs from Missouri City before high school began and watched teammates like three-star wide receiver Taye Barber handle recruiting attention as a sophomore. O’Neal said he watched Barber stay humble and hard-working.
“I want to do something special here and leave an impression,” O’Neal said. “It’s why I didn’t go to a place like IMG Academy. Cy Springs took me in and allowed me to play and I want to help pay that back by reaching the playoffs for the first time in a long time. The recruiting stuff is cool, but it comes down to football.”
The sport he loves is also a chance to help young people find a new path.
“I was a follower when I was younger, and it led me to bad places,” O’Neal said. “With all this attention, younger kids are looking up to me. That’s a responsibility. If I’m doing the wrong things, they’ll think it is OK to do the wrong things. I want them to see me uplift people. I’m trying to be an icon for others and excel in life.”
Texas is one of the 31 schools to offer O’Neal. His offer list includes nearly every major program in the nation. He’s not worried about his decision right now. There is still time. He does know what he is looking for in a college.
“I want a place that can grow with me,” he said. “I want to be a leader and I want a school that believes in my ability to earn that status as a freshman. My mindset is I’m better than some of the safeties who were just drafted in the NFL draft. I truly believe that. At the same time, I know there is a lot of work to do before I reach those goals.”
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