DEXTER, Ga. -- West Laurens (Ga.) High School middle linebacker John O’Neal is miserly with his words, speaking as if each word costs him dearly. He rarely talks, preferring to “speak with his helmet,” as he calls it.
His coach, Stacy Nobles, calls him “the silent assassin.”
“He is one of the hardest hitters I have seen in high school,” Nobles said. “And if he says anything to [an opposing player], well, he doesn’t say a whole lot. We can’t hear it. He is not a trash-talker. He just goes about his business, makes a kill, and then goes back for the next one.”
Actions speak louder than words for the ESPN 300 linebacker and Georgia commit.
“He is leading our defense, which has played very well this year,” Nobles said. “He is our leader all the way around. The kids look up to him and they rally behind him. He has gotten better about leading on the field. Last year he didn’t say a whole lot at all. I think this year because it is his senior year he has become a more vocal leader -- but that is still not a lot with Johnny since he still doesn’t say much.”
Nobles doesn’t mind that his star player is bit on the quiet side. In fact, he thinks that it helps to keep O’Neal grounded.
“One of the most amazing things about him is that there is always somebody wanting to talk to him and call him,” Nobles said. “It would be real easy for him to not work as hard as he does. I mean Johnny is your typical high school kid, but what he does in the weight room and how he has worked to get better over the last two years is a credit to him. I have coached kids before that had a lot of ability that kind of rode that and didn’t finish. Johnny is at every practice, never misses, never complains -- he is the prototypical football player that you love to have.”
Nobles is in his second year at West Laurens and the Raiders are 5-3 thanks in part to using the 6-foot-1, 225-pound O’Neal to get more pressure on opposing offenses.
“We moved to the 3-4 defense this year and there was a lot to pick up,” Nobles said. “Johnny could play some outside, but I think he is a middle guy. He's big and only going to get bigger and stronger and runs well for his size. We didn’t use [O'Neal] a lot last year like we should have as far as pressuring and blitzes. It’s tough on a quarterback when Johnny’s in their face.”
Just as O’Neal improved from last season, Nobles thinks there is much more in store for the hard-hitting linebacker.
“His hips were tight when we got here but he has worked hard on getting deep in his squats and so his maxes have gone through the roof,” Nobles said. “He has a lot of room to grow in the weight room --which is kind of a scary thing.”