USF track star could soon be national champion

- Matt O'Neal's career at USF is measured by a hop, skip and and jump. He's the best at it.

O'Neal holds the ranking as the best college triple jumper in the nation, and now he's a leap away from locking up a title at the NCAA's National Track Meet in Oregon on June 10.

It was soccer that first drew O'Neal to USF, and for his first three years, he managed to be a 2-sport star.

Since deciding to make track his exclusive senior year sport, O'Neal has leaped to the top. The soon-to-be six-time All-American has held USF's triple jump record since his sophomore year.

He just shattered his own school record by over two-feet on Saturday at the NCAA East Preliminary in Jacksonville. It was a wind-aided jump of nearly 56 feet.

For O'Neal, it's been a leap of faith, a mark that currently measures as the third best in the world.

"The secret has been prayer," said O'Neal. "Definitely continue to pray and continue to want to get better and be better."

"He's very strong in his faith," USF jump coach Kiamesha Otey explained. "He's just a believer in everything that he speaks about, everything that he does. He puts God first. He has the right attitude for it. Every day is  just 10-percent, no matter what."

Only 24 of the best college jumpers in the country will compete in Oregon. The distance that separates the last ranked jumper and O'Neal is just three feet. If Matt can top that mark, he'll come home as USF's first jumper to win a national championship.

"It would mean just the four-years that I've been here have come to penultimate, or a peak. [I] definitely thank God that I was able to compete for USF."

A win in Oregon would be a crowning moment for USF. O'Neal would be the school's second national track champion, and he couldn't think of a better present to get on his birthday.

"It would be a very big deal," said Otey. "It couldn't happen to a a better athlete. A better person. He'd be the perfect person to have it happen to. It would mean the world to USF."

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