During his time off from coaching college football, Jim O'Neil often could be found at the Baltimore Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills, Md.
"I would help out where I could, watch, listen," he said. "It was about learning as much as I could."
For O'Neil, a 30-year-old native of Northeast Philadelphia, the extra time spent honing his coaching abilities recently paid off in a big way. He was hired as a defensive quality control coach for the New York Jets, working under new defensive coordinator and fellow Central Bucks West graduate Mike Pettine Jr.
With the Ravens, in the summer and during minicamps, O'Neil worked in an unofficial capacity with Pettine and new Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "I got to know Rex and Mike over the last three or four years," he said.
In 2002, former Baltimore coach Matt Cavanaugh, named the Jets' quarterback coach on Monday, paved the way for Pettine, then a head coach at North Penn High in Lansdale, to come on board with the Ravens as a video assistant. This time, Pettine had the chance to return the favor to a young up-and-comer - and he pointed in O'Neil's direction.
"He's a young guy, a bright guy, very computer literate," Pettine said. "A couple of times a year, he would come in and I would spend time with him. It helped him become familiar with the different type of tools, computer-wise, we use in the NFL."
At C.B. West, O'Neil (Class of 1997) and Pettine (1984) played under Pettine's legendary father, Mike Pettine Sr. O'Neil, a two-way lineman and senior captain, helped the Bucks go 31-4 and win three consecutive Suburban One League National Conference championships from 1994 to 1996.
"He was everything you wanted in a player," said Mike Pettine Sr., who compiled an incredible 326-42-4 record in 33 seasons. "He was truly dedicated, intense, bright. I'm not surprised he's doing well."
O'Neil went on to play for Towson, where, as a defensive lineman, he was a three-year starter and captained the 2000 squad.
His first college coaching position was at Albany, where he worked with the offensive linemen. From there, he spent a year at Penn (offensive line), two at Northwestern (defensive backs) and one at Towson (defensive coordinator).
O'Neil was at Eastern Michigan for the last three years, coaching the defensive backs and serving as recruiting coordinator.
"I've worked with a lot of great coaches, met a lot of good people along the way," O'Neil said. "It's been a fun ride."
Of Mike Pettine Jr., O'Neil said, "He's a very smart coach, intense, a good motivator. He understands the defensive scheme they ran down in Baltimore like the back of his hand."
With the Jets, O'Neil is expected to work with the linebackers. "Mike Pettine took him under his wing, prepared him for this opportunity," Ryan said. "When we were in Baltimore, everybody in the organization was impressed with him."
O'Neil's parents, Bob and Deb, live in Chalfont, Bucks County. He and his wife, Stacy, have an 8-month-old son, Danny. The family is planning a move to Springfield, N.J., a 15-minute drive from the Jets' training facility in Florham Park, N.J.
"Every day I go to work, it's like going to football heaven," O'Neil said. "I'm very thankful."
Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019