Magazine

Turning it Around: O'Neil Brothers' Academic Journey at CSUN

Brothers Spencer and Conner O’Neil landed with the CSUN Baseball team via different paths in 2015. Spencer was one of the most sought-after high school baseball players in the country as early as his sophomore year at Southridge High School in Kennewick, Wash. Conner, two years his junior and a right-handed pitcher, snuck into Central Arizona College as an unknown walk-on — then transferred to CSUN. Conner became the Matadors’ all-time single-season save leader in 2015 and the team’s career save leader in 2016. Spencer, unfortunately, faced a different road. He endured a back injury that forced him to have invasive surgery and brought his baseball days to a premature end. Down but not out, he focused his full attention on his studies. In December 2016, Spencer graduated with his B.A. in liberal studies. Both brothers made turnarounds in the classroom while at CSUN, they said. “My approach to school before was to ‘just get by’ or ‘stay eligible,’” Conner said. “I used the sometimes taxing schedule of being a student-athlete as an excuse to not excel in school. I was doing the minimum of what was asked of me. “The biggest change for me was maturation,” he said. “Being able to look at a difficult class, a confusing assignment or a busy day and not only do it, but get it done to the best of my ability, rather than using all of those things as an excuse.” “I learned that if I invested more time in school, I would never have to worry about my performance in the classroom,” Spencer said. Conner, a graduating senior majoring in liberal studies, reflected: “My advice to a younger student-athlete would be to welcome difficulties,” he said. “Don’t shy away from anything because it’s too hard or you’re too tired. It’s not too hard, you’re not too tired, and you can make time. We all have the same 24 hours. If you’re not exhausted at the end of your 24 hours, then you need to work harder tomorrow.” Finishing his degree, Spencer said, was the ultimate victory. “A lot of people never thought I would go to college, let alone graduate,” he said. “My college degree is a big fist pump to all of them.” —Nick Bocanegra