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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Springstead's O'Neil continues to churn

Hernando Today correspondent


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For good reason, a pair of heavier-sized local wrestlers has dominated the headlines this mat season.

Hernando High's two-sport giant, 6-foot-2 Jesse Gaudin, was described by second-year Leopard skipper David Pritz "as my ticket to the (1A) state finals."

Gaudin, in his fourth year on the varsity mats, entered this past weekend's Nature Coast Technical Duals, sponsored by Brooksville's Combs Service, at a team-best 26-2 mark, featuring 16 pins.

The All-County performer in football and wrestling is heavily favored to not only reach the 50th annual FHSAA Finals at The Lakeland Center at 220 pounds, but is expected to surpass last season's third-place bronze medal.

In that same vein, Weeki Wachee heavyweight Anthony Vines continues to wreck the 285-pound weight division.

Unlike the athletically gifted Gaudin, Vines has pieced together a brilliant third and final season on the mats for the Hornets.

Vines went into the NCT Duals with a county-best 35-5 slate, featuring a county-high 29 pins. He departed the two-day event 10-0 with five more pin falls.

As a result, Vines needs eight more wins to leap past NCT's Sean Nyugen (52) into county history for the single-season victory mark.

As far as pins, the unassuming Vines (34 pins) needs six to edge past Springstead's John Dreggors (39) for the county record in that prestigious category.

While that duo has rightfully deserved note, Springstead senior heavyweight Travis O'Neil is quietly going about his business.

O'Neil mirrors Gaudin - as both are athletically gifted.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound O'Neil might be better known for his exploits at Booster Stadium anchoring defensive tackle in the Eagles' 3-5 scheme.

O'Neil's quickness, strength and first step enabled him to rank ninth on head coach Mike Garofano's defense this fall with 70 tackles. His seasonal highlights included five tackles for a loss and four sacks. He was complemented by do-everything nose guard Jesse Cowan and tackle Shane Wiggins.

At the midway point of last winter, O'Neil decided to join the Eagles' mat program. He's paid dividends ever since.

His first-year won-lost record of 11-12 wasn't too glossy.

Upon closer inspection, in his first six IBTs (individually bracketed tournaments), he placed in two: third at the 23rd Springstead Invitational and fourth in the Class 2A, District 7 Tourney at Springstead.

Though his initial season ended with a 0-2 exit in 2A-Region II, he was feted as All-County selection at 195.

He was a member of the Eagles' Disney Duals team during the summer, before concentrating on football.

Due to the longest-ever run by a Hernando County gridiron team, O'Neil's arrival on the mats was delayed this winter.

But in the 6A-II final at Seffner-Armwood, O'Neil took exception to something Hawk O-lineman Willie Edom said to him. O'Neil retaliated with a few choice words for Edom.

Unfortunately, a game official heard the O'Neil's portion of the verbal exchange and believed it had been intended toward him. As a result, O'Neil was thumbed from the game.

The ejection cost him a six-week suspension. SHS appealed the ruling and the penalty was reduced to three weeks.

Since O'Neil began competing this winter he's found a new life on the mats, not at 195 or 220 - but at 285 pounds. In the four IBTs since he returned, he has placed in all four.

Remarkably, he's captured 14 of the 19 matches he's competed in. By comparison last year, O'Neil pinned only six foes. So far, he's already stuck eight.

For good measure, he happened to cross paths with Armwood's Edom at the Springstead Invite last weekend in Spring Hill and pinned him twice (1:58 and 1:54).

Saturday night in Suwannee County, O'Neil tied his personal best with four tournament wins en route to a third-place bronze medal.

He could have competed in the tourney finals, but his only loss was to Choctawhatchee's David DuBois, 3-2.

SHS' no-nonsense second-year skipper Sal Basile explained O'Neil's contributions this winter.

"We had some differences early in the season. I'm glad we sorted it out," said Basile. "I'm really happy for the young man; deep down he's a loveable kid. He's a good person when he makes the right choices."

On having O'Neil back on the squad, "It's really been a blessing to have him back," Basile said. "Every weekend he's been in contention for a gold medal. He definitely brings a lot to the team."

As far as O'Neil's strengths, "He's athletic, very strong and extremely coachable," explained Basile. "We keep it real simple for him. He's a real intelligent guy and when you combine those factors of coachability and athleticism - that's an appealing package."

Despite O'Neil giving up nearly 65 pounds to the much bigger heavyweights - it hasn't been as much of an issue.

"Sure, he has to get used to wrestling heavier guys," detailed Basile. "But his quickness and strength work to his advantage. We have to make some adjustments to his style against the bigger guys."

Basile sees no ceiling for O'Neil.

"Honestly, the way he's been wrestling, I could see him as a state qualifier, even as a state placer," expressed Basile. "He goes into every tournament as an unknown. He was never seeded until this past weekend. He knows he has to fight through every bracket.

"There have been no easy roads for Travis. He's had to beat 2-3 ranked kids every weekend," noted Basile. "There's nothing he can't do. If he continues to step up to the plate, he'll do well."

By the numbers: Springstead's Travis O'Neil

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2012-13* 195 11 12 .478 6

2013-14 285 14 5 .737 8

TOTALS 25 17 .595 14

* Denotes All-County selection.

By the numbers: Springstead's Travis O'Neil's All-Time IBT Results (2010-14)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2012-13 1st Knockout Christmas Classic 1 2 .333 0 -

2012-13 23rd Springstead Invitational 3 1 .750 2 3rd

2012-13 27th Flagler Rotary Inv. 1 2 .333 0 -

2012-13 29th Ippolito Tourney 2 2 .500 1 -

2012-13 2A-7 Tourney 1 2 .333 0 4th

2012-13 2A-II Tourney 0 2 .000 0 -

2013-14 18th Cougar Inv. 2 1 .667 1 2nd

2013-14 2nd Knockout Christmas Classic 4 2 .667 2 4th

2013-14 24th Springstead Invitational 4 1 .800 4 3rd

2013-14 Suwannee Invitational 4 1 .800 1 3rd

TOTALS -10- 22 16 .579 11 -6-

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