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What Internet Bullies Will Never Understand About Michigan Punter Blake O’Neill

Photo Credit: Steven King/Icon Sportswire

You don’t know. You couldn’t possibly understand.

You don’t know the amount of time that goes into what you see on Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. You don’t know the hard work, self-discipline and self-sacrifice that it take be involved with the game of football; let alone be an elite level player.

Blood, sweat and tears?

That’s not just an old cliché and it’s certainly not coach speak. You don’t know about the blood that’s shed on the practice field during the week. Sure, it’s usually just small cuts and scrapes—the price of business in this game—but just like the dinks and dunks on an offensive drive, all the scrapes and bruises add up.

You don’t know about the sweat of summer two-a-days or hours spent on a daily basis in the weight room during the off-season. You don’t understand what it feels like running gassers while the hot summer sun comes up over the horizon. You don’t get the feeling of spending all of your physical energy, but then reaching down inside yourself to find just a little bit more with the urging and encouragement of your teammates.

Tears?

Do you even understand what it feels like to give your all for something only to have it be torn away from you in the final seconds? Do you know what it feels like to work harder than you ever have in your life, prepare as if nothing else matters and sacrifice all your personal time only to find out that you’ve fallen short when all was said and done?

Have you ever felt the jubilation of victory, the excitement of being on the sideline right before a big game? Have you ever felt the pit in your stomach when it all falls apart? The emptiness and sleepless nights that generally accompany a loss for elite competitors? Have you felt that heartache? Have you cried those tears?

At the risk of generalizing, I would dare say that those who verbally attacked and assaulted Michigan punter Blake O’Neill on social media after the Wolverines’ heartbreaking last-second loss to rival Michigan State have never experienced anything I just mentioned.

I would dare say that they’ve never woken up early to get some extra conditioning in before practice, or lifted with the linemen despite being a much smaller running back—just to get better.

The reason I say that is because if they did go through any of that they would have never said a word to O’Neill. They would have understood that sometimes football can be a crazy game, and it really is never over until it’s over. Every snap, every inch and every second on the clock matters. And sometimes no matter what you’ve done before, no matter how good you played in the previous minutes and how much and how hard you’ve prepared—sometimes the snap comes in low. Things happen that you can’t control.

Sometimes bad things just happen in football, no matter how good you are. Sometimes mistakes are made. And that’s okay, because ultimately it’s just a game. Ultimately these are just student athletes.

You learn, you move on and you get better.  Again, that’s not just coach speak. That’s a way of life for all football players.

Now to be fair, I myself haven’t experienced everything I talked about above, at least from a player’s perspective. I was too lazy and didn’t want to put in that kind of work as a high school football player. I cut my “career” short after my JV season and have regretted it every day since. I don’t understand it, much, from that perspective; but I have seen the amount of sacrifice that goes into this game from a different one.

As a high school varsity football coach, I’ve seen the hours of work put in by my players—all before going home to get their hours of homework done, mind you. I’ve seen the sweat (and yes, tears) in the weight room. I’ve seen bloody noses, hands, legs, arms and just about everything else in the trenches. I’ve seen players give their all for the guy next to them. I’ve seen players cry with pride while rallying their teammates before a big game against a rival, and I’ve consoled them as they’ve cried because of sadness after a heartbreaking loss.

So yes, O’Neill made a bad play that ultimately cost Michigan a game. But again, ultimately it’s just a game.

That doesn’t discredit the good plays that he has made for Michigan this season, and it certainly doesn’t discredit the amount of work he’s put in just to get to this spot in his career. Some may say “he’s just a punter”, but do you think punters are exempt from hitting the weight room? Are punters exempt from sprints after practice? Are they exempt from the physical challenges of being a big-time college football player? Bumps and bruises…the whole nine yards?

Absolutely not.

Ultimately, it’s that hard work and dedication thatwas undoubtedly instilled in O’Neill as an elite athlete that’s going to make him better. He’s going to bounce back from this and become not just a better player, but a better person, because of this one moment in his life. This one moment in one game.

Good players don’t let one moment define them. The same can’t be said for bullies on the internet, though.

You don’t know what these kids go through just to get a chance to be on your TV at Saturday afternoons. You don’t know about the blood, sweat and tears.

If you did, you would have never pressed “Tweet”.

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