Of the 27 newcomers on Tennessee's roster this season, O'Neal probably has the best chance to be in the starting lineup this fall. He realizes Vol fans expect big things but says he feels no pressure.
"I just try to keep a straight head, stay focused," he said during Saturday's Picture Day at Neyland Stadium. "I'll just do the best I can."
O'Neal's best should be pretty good. He brings a lot to the table.
"I bring a lot of speed," he said. "I've got ability ... catching ... everything."
O'Neal played in 11 games as an FSU freshman in 2005, starting two. He benefited from a head start, enrolling at mid-term and earning the coaching staff's trust with his work in spring practice.
"I was focused. I showed Bobby Bowden and all of them what I could do," he recalled, "and they put me on the field early."
Although he missed Tennessee's 2007 spring drills while finishing up his studies at City College, O'Neal believes he has made up for lost time by working out with Vol quarterbacks this summer.
"Actually, you do more in this summer program than I did at Florida State," he said, "so it felt like a spring to me."
O'Neal has spent considerable time with senior quarterback Erik Ainge the past two months. He hopes to win the QB's confidence and be his go-to guy this fall.
"He's helped me out a lot," O'Neal said. "I stay with Ainge. I've tried to learn the offense the best I could. He's with me almost every day, teaching me the offense and everything."
O'Neal has an edge on Tennessee's other first-year receivers because he already has played a season of Div. 1 football. That's an even bigger advantage than he thought it would be.
"I didn't know it was going to have a big impact but it really does," he said. "I've played it, so I pretty much know the speed of the game and what to expect. By the first or second week (of summer workouts) I already had everything down."
Because he is three years older than the average freshman, O'Neal is significantly more mature, physically and mentally, than the other first-year receivers. That's a huge factor in his quest for a starting job.
"It helps a lot," he said. "I wasn't that strong when I was at FSU, so going to juco and working my butt off paid off. I probably put on 10 pounds of muscle at San Francisco City and I probably bench 30 or 40 pounds more than I did at FSU."
With blazing speed, college experience and a level of physical maturity few Vol receivers can match, O'Neal should be in the wideout rotation – if not the starting lineup – when Tennessee opens the 2007 season Sept. 1 at California.
"I just have to show (receivers coach) Trooper Taylor I know the offense," he said, "and show (offensive coordinator) David Cutcliffe that I know what I'm supposed to do."