Photo Cred: PennLive.com

East Tennessee State is coming off their 2nd SoCon conference championship since 2018, but will enter Year 1 of the George Quarles era this season after Randy Sanders announced his retirement after the 2021 season. The Buccaneers landed a major commitment on the defensive side of the ball from Lackawanna linebacker Harold O’Neal III

O’Neal was an overlooked prospect at Harrisburg High School and decided to take his talents to Lackawanna College. O’Neal totaled 42 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble last season at Lackawanna. His breakout performance was against Army JV where he totaled 12 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. O’Neal held over 20 offers after the 2021 season including Albany, Sacred Heart, Alabama A&M, Tennessee Tech, Towson, and Eastern Kentucky. O’Neal will have three years of eligibility left at East Tennessee State. 

O’Neal has the athleticism and ability to play multiple roles for the Buccaneers going into the 2022 season. He can find a role as an inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and hybrid safety at East Tennessee State. O’Neal has excellent speed for his size and plays extremely well in space, which allows him to be a major factor in passing situations. ETSU defensive coordinator Billy Taylor has been one of the top defensive minds in the FCS and will be able to utilize O’Neal’s versatile game in multiple ways over the next three seasons. 

East Tennessee State lost multiple top contributors from last season after the unexpected coaching change after their run to the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. All-American linebackers Donovan Manuel and Jared Folks both have moved on from the Buccaneers. Jalen Porter returns after totaling 37 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks in the 2021 season. O’Neal should be able to find immediate playing time next season for the Buccaneers and will be a player to watch over the next few seasons.

East Tennessee State opens the 2022 season against Mars Hill on September 1st before traveling to face The Citadel in a huge SoCon matchup in Week 2. 

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