Michigan punter Blake O'Neill is mature beyond his years
I wasn’t watching Blake O’Neill when he talked off the field on Saturday night. I wasn’t there when he went to a locker room full of teammates he let down in the most humiliating fashion possible. I didn’t see all the texts and tweets sent his way threatening his life. I didn’t walk to class with him and see the way people looked at him.
Blake O’Neill is the only person on the planet that knows what it’s been like to be Blake O’Neill the last four days.
But from afar, you can’t help but be impressed.
Everything that’s been thrown the Michigan punter’s way since he didn’t handle that snap has been handled with grace and humility. Nobody would’ve faulted O’Neill if he closed himself off from the world and tried to keep his head down during the bye week. O’Neill admittedly stayed off social media for a couple days. That was probably a wise move.
But the former Australian footballer did not request a media hiatus. Instead, he greeted media members on Tuesday night with a smile on his face and asked them how they were doing.
Naturally, they were interested in how he was doing.
“It’s been very interesting, that’s for sure,” O’Neill said on Tuesday night. “There’s been a lot of support from the Michigan fan base, from teammates and even people back home. It’s funny that a game here can get all the way to Australia, but it did.”
O’Neill talked about how his Australian roots probably didn’t help when he fumbled the snap — a mistake he had only made once in his American football career. He had always been taught to punt the ball by any means necessary, even if it was on a botched snap. That, obviously, was what led to Jalen Watts-Jackson recovering the ball and taking it to the house.
It wasn’t an excuse. It was a costly mistake he obviously shouldn’t have made. He understands that now. That won’t be good enough for some Michigan fans. Those are likely the same people that hurled threats and insults at O’Neill on social media.
O’Neill has moved on. Michigan has moved on. Some fans have moved on. All fans need to move on.
“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again,” O’Neill said. “That’s the beauty of sports. We’ll get another chance against Minnesota to come out and prove that we’re improving.
“The Michigan football team all rallied around me and said ‘look, mate, one play doesn’t define a game and we’ll come back stronger from this and, as coach said, put steel in our spine.'”
O’Neill took full responsibility for Michigan losing and is well aware of the magnitude of his blunder. Everybody forgot the fact that he might’ve had the best punt of all time when he boomed an 80-yard punt to the Michigan State goal line. Irrelevant was the fact that Michigan was — and still is — the nation’s most efficient special teams unit, thanks in large part to O’Neill.
The botched snap is the only thing O’Neill is going to hear about during that long two-week period. He knows that. Still, he’s saying positive through it all.
“I’m happy to play for Michigan football,” O’Neill said. “You choose to play at the college level, you take the good and the bad.”
Jim Harbaugh said that if there was anybody that can handle a situation like that, it was O’Neill.
We can certainly see why.