COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- It's been three years since the death of former Missouri linebacker Aaron O'Neal, but he's still very much in the thoughts of former coaches and teammates.
The sixth-ranked Tigers will have O'Neal's No. 25 jersey on the field this season, with a different senior designated weekly for the honor. Senior linebacker Brock Christopher was the first player to wear the number in the home opener Saturday night against Southeast Missouri State.
O'Neal, a former standout at Parkway North High School in St. Louis, would have been a fifth-year senior this season after redshirting in 2004. He died of lymphocytic meningitis in July 2005 during a voluntary workout and never played a down for the school.
Since his death, the Tigers have honored O'Neal's memory in a variety of ways. In 2005, players wore "AO 25" decals on their helmets and celebrated on the 25-yard line after games. His locker was not reassigned that year.
For the third straight season, the lawns behind the home and visitor benches at Faurot Field have AO 25 painted in black at midfield. After every practice or game, the Tigers still make it a point to break apart after shouting "AO!"
O'Neal's name also remains on the Missouri roster sheet, highlighted in black, until after this season. It's a reminder to coaches and players that there are more important things than football.
Senior players got the idea from a gesture made by Oregon defensive back Patrick Chung, who wore No. 29 in the Ducks' opener in honor of teammate Todd Doxey, who drowned.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)