ShareThis Page

Gorman: A first for the last of a Quaker Valley family

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Matthew O'Neill (58) talks with teammates during a game against Seton-La Salle on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, at Chuck Knox Stadium in Leetsdale. O'Neill is one of 11 members of his family to play for the Quakers over 55 years. He wears the same number as his late cousin Zach who died earlier this year of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 20.

Matthew O'Neill wanted to be first, so he sprung from his folding chair in the Quaker Valley locker room and started his speech.

“We've got this opportunity, and it's rare. I've never had one like it, and I never will again,” O'Neill said, pausing for effect, “unless we win.

“Boys, we get this once in our life — one time. Let's take it. They're not better than us. We play like we play, and they ain't going to beat us.”

If it sounds like a speech he'd waited his whole life to give, well, that's because it is.

Matthew is the 11th member of his family to play football at Quaker Valley, the last of three generations of O'Neills to wear the black and gold.

After following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Jack, great uncles, his father, uncles and cousins, Matthew became a trailblazer Friday night.

A senior captain for the Quakers, he is the first in the family to play in the playoffs at Chuck Knox Stadium. The WPIAL Class AA first-round game against New Brighton was the first home playoff game in school history and just Quaker Valley's fifth postseason game.

“It's been a family tradition to play for Quaker Valley, and I'm glad to be a part of it,” Matthew said. “To play in front of a home crowd for a first-ever home playoff game — no one in my family has experienced this — is really special.”

What has been a dream season for Matthew and Quaker Valley followed a summer of sadness.

Zach O'Neill, a 2010 Quaker Valley graduate who was a Leetsdale and Leet Township police officer, died June 23 of a pulmonary embolism. Zach's sudden death stunned Matthew, who honors his cousin by wearing his No. 58 jersey.

“Zach was always at every single one of my games, even away games,” Matthew said. “It was a little weird, walking out there and not seeing him.

“He was a great football player and, more importantly, a great person. It was always special to me to wear his jersey, but this year it's extra special.”

Matthew found solace by focusing on football, his second family. He and senior right guard Garrett Zeigler led offseason weight room sessions to prepare for their final season.

In another cruel twist, Zeigler tore his ACL on the first day of practice in pads. First, Matthew lost his cousin. Now, his best friend was out.

So walking onto the field for the coin flip took on new meaning for Matthew.

For his whole family, really.

They sat in the top two rows: Jack, a '63 Quaker Valley grad; Kim O'Neill wearing her son's No. 58 jersey; and Lt. Col. Bryan O'Neill, who is in the Air Force 171st National Guard, smiling ear to ear.

“As a dad, I'm as proud as can be,” he said. “I've been all over the world in the Air Force, but to see him lead his team out onto the field of battle is the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced.”

A 5-foot-9, 235-pound center and nose guard who is described as a throwback by Quaker Valley coach John Tortorea, Matthew takes pride in doing thankless tasks. Built like a fire hydrant, he takes on double and triple teams at nose guard so linebackers can make tackles.

“We don't have a lot of tradition as far as we're concerned with football, and the O'Neill family and Matt himself brings us a lot of tradition,” Tortorea said. “Matt was a big contributor of success this year as a captain. He's one of our leaders, one of our toughest kids. We love to have him.”

And Matthew has loved every minute of his senior season. Quaker Valley won its first seven games, its best start since Bryan O'Neill was a junior center/middle linebacker on the '83 team that went 10-2.

“I couldn't have asked for more,” said Matthew, a three-year starter who endured a 1-8 season as a freshman. “If you would've told me we were going to make the playoffs and have a home game, I wouldn't have believed you. It's pretty special to be on the team that turned it around.”

Pretty special for Matthew to be one of 10 seniors who played Quaker Valley's first home playoff game like it was their last, for a 29-15 victory — the program's first since 1999. Even more special for the youngest of the O'Neills to have such a rare first.

One that will last forever.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.