Anyone wondering whether Shane O'Neill will be able to remain grounded now that he's a professional athlete -- just a month removed from his high school graduation -- needn't worry.
The former Fairview Knights star confirmed Monday that he's signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rapids. But he isn't blowing his signing bonus on a fancy new apartment just yet. And he's keeping his same roommates.
"I'm going to live at home for awhile" as he learns to manage his money and get settled as a pro, O'Neill said, referring to his parents' house in Louisville. "Right now I'm just focused on becoming the best player I can be."
O'Neill, who has been in the Rapids' academy system, signed with the team over the weekend.
The deal came after a long decision-making process for O'Neill and his family as he weighed whether to turn pro or attend the University of Virginia on a full athletic scholarship, as he signed to do back in February.
O'Neill -- whose father Colm owns Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub in Boulder, and whose brother Darragh punts for the Colorado Buffaloes football team -- admits his parents preferred at first for him to go to college. But he also said it's always been a dream of his to play professionally.
"That tipped the scales a little bit," said O'Neill, who didn't divulge terms of the contract. "I'm just really excited about the whole thing. It's my dream and it was sitting in front of me, and once I had a contract that my family was happy with it was easy to make the decision."
Other than passing on UVA, not much will change for O'Neill besides his paycheck.
He began training with the Rapids in February, toward the end of his prep basketball season, and has played in five games with the club's Reserves squad, playing midfield and starting twice. Since school ended in May, he's essentially been doing everything the rest of the Rapids have been training-wise.
O'Neill said he took into account the fact that he would likely have seen more playing time in college than he might early on with the Rapids. But he's hoping his current training regimen will outweigh playing time.
"Right now, I can focus 100 percent on soccer, and that I think will help me improve more than anything else," O'Neill said. "Hopefully I can excel the most in the pro environment."
First-year Rapids coach Oscar Pareja's squad sits fifth in the Western Conference near the midway point of the 2012 season, battling to hold on to the final playoff spot.
If MLS approves his contract, O'Neill will become just the second homegrown player -- meaning he can be signed without being subjected to the MLS SuperDraft -- to sign with the Rapids from their own academy system. Former Rangeview standout Davy Armstrong, who is still with the club, was the first in 2010.
O'Neill said he's optimistic that he can crack the Rapids first team's 18-man roster this season and maybe see some minutes, though he acknowledges he has plenty of work to do to get to that point.
When he began training with the Rapids in February, he said he felt then that he'd be going to college because the speed of the pro game was making for a difficult adjustment period.
"I don't know what happened," said O'Neill, who had been offered a chance to suit up for the Reserves last summer but opted against it so that he could keep his final year of high school playing eligibility. "It just clicked. I just started improving pretty quickly."O'Neill is just the second Fairview Knight to reach the professional ranks and first to do so in this country. John Ackland, who played at FHS in the early 1990s, enjoyed a pro stint in Luxembourg.
At Fairview, O'Neill led the Knights to a 12-3-2 senior season last fall, racking up 19 goals and six assists. He left Fairview as the school record holder for both goals and assists, breaking Ackland's records.
“As well as the recognition it gives all the places that got Shane where he is today, it is also a marker for the development of American soccer,” FHS coach Stan Jozwiak said. “They're now getting kids that grew up and played in the United States and are taking them from kids to adults.
“He's working real hard at it right now. I think he went in the direction that his heart spoke to.”
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