It's easy to have forgotten about O'Neill Chambers. The former wide receiver from Harmony, Florida suits up for his final season at BYU in 2012 after nearly a year and a half off. He had been somewhat of a lightning rod in his previous three seasons as a Cougar. The talented recruit came to campus with a promise to break BYU's kickoff-return-touchdown drought. His talent was apparent, but so was his strut -- and his tendency to not protect the ball.
Regardless of what has happened, I do know I will be rooting for Chambers in his final season in Provo.
It was about four and a half years ago when Chambers committed to BYU, so many may not remember his very interesting explanation of his committment:
"I had dreams and little flashes of playing at BYU," said Chambers. "I never had any dreams or flashes of playing at Purdue or any other school ... Every time I get around Coach Mendenhall or see any highlights about BYU football I get goose bumps ... I didn’t have that feeling around any other coaches or about any other team. To me it was just another sign that I needed to be there. Sometimes I can’t even sleep at night. I signed that contract with BYU and I feel that’s where I need to be."
Chambers caught only three passes as a freshman, but returned 45 kicks. As a sophomore, he caught 32 passes for 376 yards and continued his kick return duties. Then, 2010 was supposed to be the season. With Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo manning the wide receiver positions, Chambers moved to the slot, where he was to make the BYU receiving corp big and fast across the line.
But he was dismissed from the team half-way through the season for breaking team rules (which apparently wasn't his first time running into problems). According to Chambers, it was the result of a misunderstood prank on Jake Heaps.
Here's where I get to my position of rooting for Chambers to both succeed and be a contributor in 2012. Despite his tendency to strut and preen after kick returns or first downs, and despite his struggle to get along with some teammates, when he was offered the choice of transferring anywhere or sticking around to go through a try-out to earn his scholarship back ... Chambers stayed. With Bronco Mendenhall, he created an undisclosed list of expectations and goals he would have to meet in order to even be considered for re-entry to the team. He even stayed knowing he would likely change positions, too.
The Mtn's Sammy Linebaugh ran this profile on Chambers about six months after he was dismissed from the team (which was about 15 months ago), and I found it to be rather insightful:
"I blame myself more than anything ... I don't want to leave, I never wanted to."
This year, Chambers entered camp as an unassuming member of the defensive secondary, trying to earn time on the field as a safety. For the first eight days of spring camp, Chambers wore the number 62. Some fans wondered aloud if Chambers had learned anything, viewing his strange number choice (he's a defensive back, after all) as something akin to what we've seen from players like Dennis Rodman or Ron Metta World War Artest.
He eventually changed to #15 (perhaps he was finally assured his spot on the team was secure), but why #62? According to Coach Mendenhall (via Greg Wrubell), "Chambers apparently chose the initial unusual jersey number to 'reflect that's he's not expecting anything, and he doesn't view himself as anything other than a guy just trying to make the team.'"
It won't be easy for Chambers, as the Cougar secondary returns most of its players from last season. Preston Hadley will retain his spot as the boundary cornerback, while Jordan Johnson (who didn't start but saw decent minutes last year) is expected to start at field corner. Joe Sampson and Mike Hague, whoever starts, have the free safety position locked up, and Daniel Sorensen returns to start at strong safety.
Chambers does have the opportunity to position himself as the next guy in, or perhaps to step into the role Joe Sampson played late last season. With heavy passing offenses Idaho, New Mexico State, and Hawaii, BYU played a lot of 5-DB coverage, so perhaps Chambers could play as a dime specialist. There's also a possibility Chambers will still take a role in kick returns (though I'm personally hoping Jamaal Williams can work into a return-man role this season).
Wherever it is, I'm not sure BYU fans -- who demand a high character from the players -- have given Chambers enough credit. With the hard work, the list of goals to accomplish to be considered to play again, and the position change, I appreciate what Chambers has done. He's got at least one fan hoping for his success in his final year.