The memory of Missouri football player Aaron O’Neal was honored on Thursday morning at a memorial service at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. O’Neal died on July 12 after a voluntary workout at Faurot Field.
The Missouri football team occupied the first few rows, wearing t-shirts that honored their fallen teammate. Two of those players, junior linebacker Dedrick Harrington and senior linebacker Derrick Ming spoke to the crowd.
Harrington read a poem he wrote in honor of O’Neal. “Man, I’m sorry, for if I could, I’d make this all just a bad dream and you’d soon wake. For my selfish self is so used to seeing you, your absence is so hard to take,” Harrington read.
Ming, called O’Neal “a great athlete, a great son, a great friend and a great teammate.” Ming also noted that O’Neal’s work ethic was far beyond what anyone would expect out of a player his age.
“He set examples for even me, the senior, on how things were to be done sometimes,” Ming told the crowd. “We will use this to fuel us through the season in dedication of A.O.”
Bob Bunton, O’Neal’s head football coach at Parkway North High School in Creve Coeur, told the players and coaches, “You were extremely fortunate to know him.” He added, “Aaron was a competitor. He really was. He loved this game. And you are going to bounce back, we all are. But you need to compete and you need to get after it because I know that’s what he would want you guys to do.”
Perhaps the most emotional tribute came from head coach Gary Pinkel, who fought back tears throughout his speech. He said O’Neal “would have achieved greatness” and that he “will never forget that beautiful smile”.
“How honored I am to stand before you this morning. I’m not only honored to have been asked to speak at this service, but most importantly I’m honored to have been Aaron’s college football coach,” Pinkel said.
“He was a class act. He had character, he was honest, his teammates trusted him, he was unselfish. I don’t know how many friends of his and teammates have said in the last week that Aaron was always concerned about the other guy. He was committed—truly committed–to become the best. And he had the work ethic and determination to do so.”
Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden and team chaplain Shay Roush also spoke.
Audio of the O’Neal Memorial Service features: Team Chaplain Shay Roush; Mike Alden; Gary Pinkel; Dedrick Harrington; Derrick Ming; and high school coach Bob Bunton.