Dejonte O’Neal was minding his own business in study hall when he was tapped on the shoulder earlier this year.
He looked up and it was Fresno State compliance coordinator Kyle Leslie.
“Told me to come inside the office,” O’Neal recalled. “For me as a walk-on, I thought I owe some money. I’m a little stressed out already. I’m like, what do I do? What do I owe?”
There was a document on the table, and O’Neal glanced at it and figured it was all bad.
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“The paper said 100 percent on it,” he said. “I didn’t read it fully. I’m like, they’re taking 100 percent of my financial aid away. I’m like, I might be off the team. I talked to him and asked him what’s going on? What did I do wrong?”
The former Bullard High School star didn’t do anything wrong.
After joining Fresno State as a walk-on and showing signs of what he can do during spring practice and getting rave reviews from coaches, O’Neal received a full-ride scholarship.
I wasn’t expecting it at all.
Fresno State running back Dejonte O’Neal, on earning a scholarship after starring at Bullard High
“I was shocked,” said the 5-foot-6, 169-pound sophomore running back. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. ... It was just a blessing for me.”
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter has been impressed with O’Neal’s work ethic since spring football.
“He showed us a bunch of things,” said DeRuyter, entering his fifth season with the Bulldogs. “As far as being a playmaker, to (improve) our offense is to figure out ways to get him the ball in space one-on-one, whether we’re throwing it to him or getting it to him on the fly. He can run the inside zone, and when he hits a crease, he pops through and is explosive. I liked the progress he’s made. We’re excited to figure out ways to give him opportunities.”
O’Neal credits his parents, family and mentor/trainer Travon Jones for pushing him.
56 Rushing yards for O’Neal on 16 carries in four games as a freshman in 2015
“It’s all hard work,” O’Neal said. “My mom, my dad, grandma, sister and everybody in my family that’s been part of me … even friends, teammates. Everybody that helped me. It just pushed me that much and makes me want it more.”
O’Neal doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He feels he owes it to his coaches and teammates to do well from here.
“Coaches believe in me,” O’Neal said. “Anything is possible. With God on your side, you stay healthy and fight, keep grinding, anything is possible, and I want to thank the coaching staff. I’m going to give it my all and my best and show them what I can do.”
Coming out of Bullard, O’Neal didn’t have any offers. Instead, he wanted to go to Fresno State and play football. That was his No. 1 goal from the start and “all I did was stick to the script.”
O’Neal never considered abandoning his dreams about his hometown school. As a walk-on or a scholarship player, he maintained a positive attitude on and off the field.
Have confidence in yourself, and that’s all I’ve been doing.
“Literally never give up,” he said. “For me, it’s always give thanks to God, and you have to play like you’re a scholarship guy. Don’t downplay yourself: ‘Oh, I don’t have this and so I’m not the same as this guy.’ Can’t think like that. That’s the big reason why you actually play like you’re a starter, and that’s the key to it.
“Like my strength and conditioning coach Thomas Stallworth preaches all the time, it’s self-confidence. That’s what the big-time players do: have confidence in yourself, and that’s all I’ve been doing.”