Tigers back to work with summer drills

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A memorial service for Aaron O'Neal is planned for Thursday in Columbia.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- University of Missouri football coaches and players attended the funeral of Aaron O'Neal, 19, in his hometown of St. Louis on Monday.

A day later, they were back at work, quietly resuming the summer drills that were suspended indefinitely after O'Neal's July 12 collapse on Faurot Field.

About 30 players attended the 7 a.m. voluntary workout, which was supervised by Missouri athletic trainers and conditioning specialists rather than football coaches, who are barred from such sessions under NCAA rules.

The session at Memorial Stadium was closed to reporters. Players did light stretches, full-field sprints and agility drills.

O'Neal's teammates -- not Coach Gary Pinkel -- decided to quickly move ahead in preparation for the fall season, a team spokesman said. Fall practices officially begin in early August, with the first game in Kansas City on Sept. 3 against Arkansas State.

"It was the team's decision," said Missouri athletics spokesman Chad Moller. "They were really anxious to try to get back to somewhat of a normal routine. This is the first step."

Gone were the flowers, sympathy cards, banners, autographed footballs and other remembrances left behind at a makeshift shrine to O'Neal at the stadium's front gate in the days after he died. Moller said the items were removed to guard against theft or rain damage. Team members will present the remembrances to O'Neal's family at a public memorial Thursday in Columbia. The memorial is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Mizzou Arena.

Pinkel, quarterback Brad Smith and defensive back Jason Simpson will be in Houston today for the Big 12 Conference's annual football media preview. Missouri was supposed to unveil its 2005 media guide at the event, but athletics officials recalled the hefty book -- typically several hundred pages long -- from the printers after O'Neal's death, Moller said.

A revised guide will include a tribute to O'Neal, a soft-spoken middle linebacker known as "A.O." to his teammates.

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