On a typical game day, New Paltz High School kicker Aidan O’Neill plays football in front of his hometown community.
His parents sit at the sidelines, his friends cheer him on. But by fall, he could be playing in front of thousands of fans, wearing a Bobcats jersey at Div. 1 Ohio University.
He has become the first athlete out of New Paltz High School to sign with a Div. I team since the 1980s.
O’Neill, 19, kicker of the New Paltz Huguenots High School football team, signed his National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and football career at Ohio University, a Div. I college in Athens, Ohio on Wednesday, Feb. 3. At Ohio, he plans to study business — all while competing for a special teams job.
As a two-sport athlete, O’Neill never tried football until his sophomore year and then decided to single his focus to the gridiron. It was only until he was discovered during soccer practice by Sam Phelps, Huguenot football defensive teams coach where he began his two-sport career.
Last year, statistically, he was 22-for-23 in extra points, had 24 touchbacks on 29 kickoffs and a career-long field goal of 57 yards during a scrimmage game. That earned him the title of the longest successful field goal in the nation this year off the ground. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he also gained state Class A fourth-team All-Star honors.
After feeling the pain of having his first extra point blocked in the first game of his football career, he has worked his way to becoming one of the best high school kickers in the nation. He has missed only one other Point After Touchdown (PAT) since.
O’Neill can also come in to punt, averaging 41.6 yards on 23 attempts with a long of 65 in his time as a Huguenot.
On his new turf, O’Neill has an opportunity to compete for a job. At the end of last season the Ohio University Bobcats lost both punter Mitch Bonnstetter and placekicker Josiah Yazdani to graduation. On the spring roster is redshirt freshman Louie Karvos and true freshman Michael Farkas.
Last season, the Bobcats went 8-5 and lost 31-29 on a last-second field goal to Appalachian State in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl.
For the duration of his football career, O’Neill has worked with Hammer Kicking Academy’s Adam Tanalski, a nationwide recruiter and personal coach in special teams alongside of Patrick Toole, who is currently working for this year’s NFL Combine.
There, 1,300 specialists are scouted and observed to propel their careers forward.
At Hammer Kicking Academy, he was the Super-7 (top 7 selection) at the National Top 40 invite event — one that features kickers, punters and snappers throughout the nation. In his sophomore year, O’Neill racked up the award for the most valuable kicker of the youth group beating out 140 nationally of his position. That is when Tanalski started naming schools and O’Neill’s dream was about to begin.
“His elevation on his field goals is second to none,” Tanalski said. “This is a kid if he does the right things over the next four years will have an opportunity to play professional football. He is a star kicker and really is a special talent. For someone from New York state, he really is truly the best field goal kicker in the class.”
Only two other athletes who have graduated from New Paltz High School have signed with Div. I teams. The most recent was Charles Davis in 1987, who is now lead analyst for Fox College Football.
New Paltz High School Football Head Coach Tom Tegeler said O’Neill was a significant strength of the team, which will be hard to replace.
“It will take a lot of years before we see a kicker like that,” he said. “We’ll just have to find somebody that can fill his shoes a small part. He will be greatly missed. It will be a huge impact. I’m really pulling for him to do great things. Hopefully he has some success and that in return speaks highly of New Paltz football.”
Coming from such a small town has O’Neill consistently striving for more, he said.
While many other specialists have come from different paths in the camps he attended, most play in the south, where football is a significant entity and multiple players on the signing day signing their letters of intent.
“New Paltz has had an effect on me where nobody is really striving for that,” O’Neill said. “Nobody else around me is trying to do the same thing. I think that if I was at another place, I don’t know if it would have given me the courage to stand out and try to do this. Maybe would have just blended in and just been like everybody else that goes off to their school. Being special at this here made me stand out more because nobody else is going to that level to play other positions.”
O’Neill has visited his new stomping grounds four times and said the atmosphere is vastly similar to the SUNY New Paltz campus.
During his time visiting, O’Neill was hosted by Bobcat’s longsnapper Jake Hale.
“It feels like home,” O’Neill said.
Before he heads off to his new adventure, O’Neill will return to Buffalo to receive one last tune-up with Tanalski and the camps he has attended for the last two years.
“There is no one who can get in his head,” Tanalski said. “He is the most confident, cool, calm person that you can ever imagine. I don’t think he will have any issue or difficulty changing over to playing in front of 30,000 people a week.”