Clarksville, Ark.-Morgan O'Neil is busy, but it hasn't stopped her from fulfilling a number of leadership roles.
A typical day for O’Neil includes class time in the mornings, work in the afternoons and soccer practice in the evening. But that is not all. O’Neil serves as the Student Government Association President, soccer team captain and was the student representative on the recent presidential search committee. And, the Environmental Studies, English and Political Science major from Carbondale, Ill., appears to flawlessly thrive in each of those responsibilities.
“She never complains or deflects any role or duty,” said Head Coach Bryan Drotar. “Morgan is the first to work and the first to serve. She has led our team with her positive attitude and her incredible work ethic. Morgan is heavily involved in the life of the University and she is not merely a member of these organizations. She is the type of person to drive an organization or a group to do meaningful things. I am always amazed how much Morgan can get done every day.”
O’Neil thought her soccer career ended after her junior year at Carbondale High School.
“I had originally not planned to play soccer here until one of the girls saw me playing a pick-up game on the campus mall my freshman season,” said O’Neil. “I then went and talked to Coach Drotar about playing on the team.”
From there, the rest is history. O’Neil was a three-year starter and has played in goal and in the midfield during her four-year career. She has played in 59 career matches and has been a member of the conference All-Academic team the last three years. While Drotar’s program has benefitted from O’Neil’s presence, she, too, has reaped the rewards of collegiate soccer.
“I enjoy soccer so much,” she said. “Soccer is my release for the day. It is where my passion is. I know at 4 o’clock everyday all the anxiety or stress I’ve felt can be released on the field.”
O’Neil also credits soccer for her ability to complete other facets of her campus life.
“Soccer really helped me cultivate my work ethic,” she said. “I’ve never been a fantastic player. But I’ve understood the game mentally and worked hard.”
Drotar feels fortunate to have O’Neil’s example within his program as she has been a model student-athlete.
“I am glad I have had the opportunity to work with Morgan in our soccer program,” said Drotar. “I count it a privilege to be associated with her. She is the face of what every collegian should be. ”
O’Neil has a “team-first” attitude, something Drotar appreciates within his program. O’Neil clearly remembers a July phone call going into her sophomore season from her head coach. Drotar asked her to be prepared to be the starting goalkeeper. Ozarks’ first-team goalie was injured and would not be able to play. O’Neil, who hadn’t played goalie since high school, jumped at the task, earning the respect of her teammates and coach. This is just one example of O’Neil’s leadership abilities, Drotar noted.
She has a passion for protecting the environment and plans to take her academic talents to law school, likely in the northwest part of the country. But don’t be surprised if you see O’Neil back in Arkansas someday.
“Arkansas has really become my home,” she said. “In a lot of ways when I think of home, this is where I think of. I think eventually I will probably want to come back and live here.”
While the women’s soccer program hasn’t produced the number of wins O’Neil would like to have enjoyed, she has grown to love the game even more. And, to her the game has meaning beyond its boundary lines.
“I want soccer to be a part of my life no matter where my career leads me,” she said. “I think the game is great at developing children and communities. It is unlike other sports because you have the liberty to go out with a ball and play, regardless of the setting. It caters to everyone, gender or race doesn’t matter.”
O’Neil appreciates the opportunity Ozarks has afforded her as a student-athlete.
“Ozarks has given me a thousand opportunities,” she said. “It has given me the chance to take on different types of leadership roles. It is easy to be involved on our campus. The faculty, too, put so much emphasis on making your experience positive. Everyone on campus loves the campus so much. It is like a fever, you catch it.”
O’Neil will play her final game for Ozarks this Saturday against Louisiana College. O’Neil will be honored following the women’s match as part of “Senior Day.”
She is the daughter of Diane Burns.