Dawg day afternoon for Gracie O'Neal

Gordon Lee senior runner Gracie O'Neal is headed to the University of Georgia after signing a letter of intent with the school this past Wednesday. Also there for the ceremony was Janet and Terry O'Neal, Gordon Lee cross country coach Nathan Burns, Gordon Lee track coach Dan Roberts, Gordon Lee girls' basketball coach Kevin McElhaney, Gordon Lee girls' assistant coach Chris King, Gordon Lee athletic director Todd Windham and Gordon Lee principal Michael Langston.

Citing a love for the school, multi-time Gordon Lee state champion Gracie O'Neal officially became a Georgia Bulldog this past Wednesday after signing her letter of intent with the SEC school.

O'Neal, who won her third consecutive GHSA Class 1A Public School cross country state championship earlier this month, said she will run both cross country and track for the Bulldogs.

"Georgia has always been an awesome school," she said. "Even if I wasn't going to run there, I still would go to school there. When I went on my visit, I just loved the team, the coaches, the city of Athens and just everything about it. I just think it's going to be a good fit for me.

"It's going to be a great place to challenge myself, both running and academically. I just felt comfortable there and it just seemed right."

O'Neal is already the most decorated runner in Gordon Lee High School history. In addition to three individual state cross country titles and five individual state track titles - plus a state team title in track last spring - she also holds the Gordon Lee girls’ school record in cross country (18:19), the 800 (2:23), the 1600 (5:14) and the 3200 (11:23).

"After I went on a visit there for cross country, I really fell in love with it," she explained. "I love the coach. I love the team and the atmosphere, the facilities...everything is just awesome. I just felt comfortable there. I felt like that's where I knew I wanted to go."

Gordon Lee cross country coach Nathan Burns said O'Neal's own work ethic pushes her to be the best she can be.

"She'll fit right in," he said. "I won't be surprised if she starts doing fabulous things at UGA just like she's doing here because of the dedication and the work ethic that she has."

O'Neal is also an All-Region basketball player for the Lady Trojans, averaging a double-double a year ago, and she was a standout on the volleyball court before giving up the sport this past season to focus on cross country.

She said she knows she will have to step it up even more once she starts running for the Dawgs.

"There's never a time you can be complacent," she continued. "The training is going to be hard, but it's exciting and I'm ready for the challenge. I can give them 100 percent effort and dedication and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go at it and give them everything I've got."

O'Neal is considering biology as a major because of its versatility.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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