O'Neal leading Patriots into Westover Relays

O’Neal is one of Southwest Georgia’s top shot putters

Westover’s Chris O’Neal has become one of the top athletes in the shot put competition. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

Westover’s Chris O’Neal has become one of the top athletes in the shot put competition. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

ALBANY — Westover’s Chris O’Neal planted his feet in the circle. Then the stocky senior heaved the shot put that landed nearly 50 feet away in the mushy Hugh Mills Stadium turf.

By high school track & field standards, it wasn’t a bad throw for an athlete who just picked up the event two years ago after some prodding from his grandmother.

O’Neal has consistently improved during his short career, and his success will make his Patriots one of the favorites on the boys side tonight at the 11th annual Westover Relays, which begin at 4 p.m. at Hugh Mills Stadium.

What began as a side item to his football career, O’Neal loves competing in track & field events. In fact, he had two colleges recently inquire about his services.

“That was the first two college letters I’ve ever gotten in anything,” he said.

The 5-foot-9, 230-pounder also played fullback, blocking for All-Area first-team running back Shannon Saunders. He said football is his first love, however, competing in track & field ranks near the top as well.

But O’Neal may have never set foot on a track had it not been for his grandmother. One day, she casually asked him if he’d considered throwing the shot put.

“She had brothers who did it, and she always enjoyed going to track & field meets and watching them,” O’Neal said.

When he started as a sophomore, he said he wasn’t very good and nearly got cut by Westover coach Harley Calhoun. But he was determined to show everyone, including the coach, that he was going to excel.

O’Neal continued to work on his mechanics and approach. Last season, he qualified for the state meet in Jefferson.

“I don’t think he ever embraced the shot put when he first got out here,” Calhoun said. “What was funny is that when he started doing the drills to be a thrower, he started to like it. Once he figured it out, he was money.”

There is something natural about O’Neal’s mechanics. Calhoun said the senior has great feet and a wonderful approach. When O’Neal sets and throws, his distances usually rank as some of the best in Southwest Georgia.

“He’s come a long way from his sophomore season,” Calhoun said.

Today is the last big meet for Westover before the Region 1-AAAA meet in a few weeks. He is one of the shot put favorites to return to state where he is anxious to prove himself. Last season, the senior got nervous on the big stage and didn’t place.

His best throw of 45 feet in Jefferson was well below his average of 50. O’Neal is ready for a return to show last season was a fluke.

This year, he has thrown 50-6 at a meet earlier this season in Thomasville. He doesn’t like to digress.

“I always want to keep going farther, but the biggest thing is I want to help my team win state,” he said.

O’Neal credits teammate Antravious Parks for a lot of his success. The pair train together and usually compete for the top two spots. Parks often pushes him.

“We like to fire each other up … just friendly competition,” Parks said. “If he throws one farther than me, I always tell him that I’m going to get him on the next throw.”

In the Monroe Relays three weeks ago, O’Neal and Parks finished 1-2 in the shot put competition, giving Westover an early lead in a meet it eventually won. The Patriots will be looking for a similar performance tonight at the Westover Relays, which will feature 20 area schools, including Monroe, Dougherty, Albany High, Terrell County, Bainbridge, Lee County and Mitchell County.

And O’Neal knows it will start with him.

“We’re always looking to get those points,” he said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”

And that means a good performance in the shot put.