Now entering his final season as a Buckeye, O'Neal is still just as positive as he was as a true freshman. He appreciates the opportunity to play for a great program like Ohio State and he knows he has learned a lot during his time in Columbus.
"I love everything about being a Buckeye," O'Neal said, while appearing at the Lexington, Ohio, youth football camp. "I appreciate playing in a great program and I love being able to represent the university as a student-athlete. I'm here at this camp because I was taught to give back to the community that supports you. These kids look up to Ohio State football players and I hope to be able to be an inspiration to some young person. I never got to go to anything like this when I was a kid, so I know how important this can be to a youngster. It's also cool to be here with the other Buckeyes, just hanging out and having fun. My teammates are like my brothers and I know my time with them is coming to an end pretty quickly."
O'Neal is aware of his place in the Ohio State program. He understands that head coach Jim Tressel places a tremendous amount of responsibility upon his seniors, and it's imperative that the older players show leadership to their younger teammates.
"I am one of the older guys in the program now," he said. "My time here has gone by so fast that it's kind of hard to believe I'm entering my final season at Ohio State. I always tell the new guys to just enjoy themselves every step of the way because the time goes by very quickly. My role as a senior is to be an example to the younger players. I haven't always done things perfectly, but now I understand that I only have a small amount of time left and I need to make sure I'm ready to be counted on every day I'm out there. I guess you could call it leading by example."
O'Neal still thinks he can be a factor for the Buckeyes in 2008, even though he isn't listed as a starter.
"Personally, I still think I can be an impact player for Ohio State this year," O'Neal stressed. "I think I'm so much better than I have been in the previous three years as a player. I've been working hard to be the kind of player Ohio State wants me to be. All of us have been working really, really hard to get ready for this upcoming season. I feel I will have a significant role on this team this year. I can still accomplish a lot of the goals I had for myself coming out of high school."
O'Neal has been a part of some extremely successful teams at Ohio State and he thinks the 2008 Buckeyes can be very good.
"We can be as good as we want to be," he said directly. "Everybody keeps saying that Ohio State can't finish the season off right and that needs to change. Our number one goal this year is to finish strongly. Nobody quitting under any circumstances is what we need. On the field, in the weight room, in the classroom, in every aspect of being an Ohio State football player we need to finish the job. We should have learned from the past two championship losses how to finish things off right. We need to go out and do it."
The leadership role on this football team is a subject that O'Neal spoke about extensively. He is impressed by what he has seen in the off-season.
"Leadership is not always about yelling and screaming, although people outside the team think it is," O'Neal explained. "It's more about doing the right things day after day. James Laurinaitis isn't a real vocal guy, but you better believe he's a true leader through his actions. He's exactly what I feel a leader is. Some guys are very vocal while others are action-oriented, and it doesn't matter which type of leader you are. A person's actions speak more about his leadership ability than anything else. James is one of the greatest linebackers to ever play at Ohio State. He's a very humble guy and that stands out to all of his teammates. Just like A.J. Hawk, James is both a great player and a great person."
It's rare to speak with an Ohio State football player that they don't mention the impact Jim Tressel has had in their lives. Jamario O'Neal is no exception and he explained his relationship with the Buckeye head coach.
"Coach Tressel is simply a great coach," he stated. "He's also a great man because he cares so deeply about his players as people. He makes sure things are done correctly, on and off the field. He has a great amount of wisdom and that comes through in everything he says to us. He tries to show us that there's always a better way to do something and he's always looking forward. He tells us to shoot for the stars and try to be great in everything we do. I think it's unfair that people criticize him for the past two championship losses. How many coaches never get there at all? I learned in high school that the coach is going to get criticized if the team isn't perfect every time out there. I felt bad for Ted Ginn when he went through the same stuff."
O'Neal considers himself fortunate to have played for two legendary coaches in Jim Tressel and Ted Ginn.
"Coach Ginn is very similar to Jim Tressel, no doubt about it," he admitted. "A lot of coaches are all about themselves and their success, but these men are about seeing their players succeed. They both care about their players as human beings and they want to see kids succeed in life. They are out there teaching life lessons, not just football lessons. I love both men and count them as blessings in my life."
Finally, Jamario O'Neal thought long and hard before describing his greatest moment as a Buckeye.
"My greatest moment might be a surprise to a lot of people," he said with a smile. "I've had so many of them, but if I have to pick one it would be going into Texas and beating them in 2006. They came into our house and beat us the year before, so we owed them a little payback. It was a hostile environment and we were a very young team, but we went in there and played a great game. I really think that was my favorite moment since I've been at Ohio State. To win that game, under tough conditions, let a bunch of young guys know that Ohio State was still able to play at the highest level. I think that win propelled us into an undefeated season. I'm hoping a victory over USC might do the same thing for us this year."