Even after one of the most devastating losses in Michigan football history, Blake O’Neill isn’t making excuses. He doesn’t seem to be losing much sleep, either.
What the fifth-year senior punter is doing is getting back to work, moving past the fumble on the final play of Saturday’s 27-23 loss to Michigan State to get on with his life.
O’Neill met with the media Tuesday at Michigan’s Schembechler Hall, choosing to face the sudden burst of attention coming his way, not run from it.
“Why not?” O’Neill said of speaking to the media. “I think football is a very interesting game. There’s ups and downs, highs and lows, and I think that’s the beauty of it. I’m happy to speak if people are willing to listen.”
When faced with questions about the logistics of the play, O’Neill dispelled rumors of trick play options and refused to make excuses for the play that ultimately lost the Wolverines the game.
“I mean the protection was good, the snap was, sort of, in my catch zone,” O’Neill said. “If anything, put me back out there for the next one, I’m sure I’d make the kick.”
After the game, the Australian-rules football convert said he paid no attention to Twitter, deciding to let the issue cool off before checking his account. And when he left the locker room, his family was in town from Australia. The O’Neill family still is, in fact, taking in the sights and sounds of Ann Arbor.
And for any backlash he received, there has also been ample positive reinforcement.
“A lot of support from the Michigan fan base, from teammates, even people back home,” O’Neill said. “It’s funny that a game over here could get all the way back to Australia, but it did. But mate, it’s been overwhelming, the support I’ve received.”
Of course, there are some people who can relate to what O’Neill is going through better than others, including former Michigan and NFL kicker Jay Feely. Feely and O’Neill got a chance to speak this week, and O’Neill was pleased with their chat.
When asked whether he had dropped a snap before, O’Neill conceded that he had, once, at Weber State.
“But I managed to get 67 yards off that kick,” he said.
As for his teammates, there is one that can share the pain with O’Neill more than anyone else. Redshirt sophomore long snapper Scott Sypniewski was the one snapping to O’Neill, and while the punter maintained it was catchable, the two can commiserate over the fumble.
“I think we’ll probably be bound at the hip for the rest of our lives because of that play,” O’Neill said.
In the days since, videos of the fumble and ensuing touchdown return have been running on SportsCenter and other highlight shows seemingly around the clock.
But while it would be easy to dwell on the play, O’Neill is instead declining to watch replays outside of his viewings with Michigan special teams coach John Baxter.
“To me, it’s an error in a game, and if you can learn from it, it’s worth looking into,” O’Neill said. “But we’ve sort of figured out what we can do better and moved forward.”
From start to finish of his Tuesday press conference, that much was clear. O’Neill recognizes his error on the game’s final play. But he won’t let it derail him further.