UL’s Lochridge has persevered through bumps in the road

University of Louisiana third baseman O’Neal Lochridge is blessed to still play the game he loves after having his career nearly ended due to a back injury. Photo courtesy of UL

O’Neal Lochridge is all smiles.

The University of Louisiana starting third baseman just went 0-for-3 at the plate with a pair of strikeouts.

Yet, underneath his black-and-vermillion-trimmed cap on this particular Friday night, there’s an unmistakable look of pure joy.

Why? For one, UL picked up a hard-fought 2-0 win over visiting Georgia State.

The other reason, and more important factor contributing to Lochridge’s joy, is the former St. Thomas More star feels blessed to even have the privilege to step over the white line — an opportunity that, not that long ago, he felt would never happen again.

“It has helped put things in perspective for me,” O’Neal said. “I am not playing how I always played. I am not hitting over .400 like I was in high school or hitting two bombs in the first ten games like I did at LSU. 

“I am not playing like I have always done in the past,” O’Neal added. “But I do enjoy every minute I have out there on a baseball field as a member of this team because I don’t know when it could end. I am blessed to have this chance.”


O’Neal Lochridge was named the Class 4A Most Outstanding Player during his senior season. Photo courtesy of Lochridge Family

Auspicious beginnings

As far back as Lochridge can recall, baseball was his undeniable passion growing up in the neighborhood surrounding L.J. Alleman Middle School in Lafayette. Lochridge idolized the likes of Albert Pujols, and later Mike Trout, and would quickly develop into one of the area’s best all-around baseball prospects. 

After making the transition from youth baseball to St. Thomas More High, Lochridge began to get noticed by college scouts while as a member of the Marucci Elite travel ball team as he played all across the country from Atlanta to Tennessee to New York.

Major collegiate programs began to show serious interest, with Arkansas being the first big-time program to do so. But soon Lochridge’s childhood dream — that of thousands of boys growing up in Louisiana — of donning the purple and gold of the LSU Tigers became reality.

“The first time I talked to someone at LSU it was Coach Javi Sanchez,” O’Neal said. “I called him and I was nervous. I remember he said that they ‘would love to get you to come down for a visit.’ I remember I was talking to him outside of the hotel room because we were at a tournament and my mom was walking with me back and forth on the ledge.”

LSU would offer Lochridge early during the fall of his sophomore season.

“He had a lot of power with the bat and we thought he could come in and play third base and hit double digit homers for us,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “We thought he would move to third or second base for us because he had defensive skills but the thing we loved was his power to hit the ball out of the park.”

Lochridge didn’t crumble under the pressure of being a coveted LSU baseball recruit. In fact, he actually thrived even more. 

In his junior season at STM, he hit .383 with seven home runs and 48 RBI and helped the Cougars win the Class 4A state championship — the school’s first state title in a generation.

The following season, Lochridge was even more dominant as he hit .458 with 19 doubles, 12 home runs, 53 RBI and helped STM repeat as state champions. He was named the 2015 Class 4A Most Outstanding Player and earned All-America honors from Louisville Slugger, Perfect Game, Max Preps and the National High School Coaches Association.

“He was always such a hard worker and talented player,” longtime STM head coach Gary Perkins said. “He practiced and played the game exactly the same. You couldn’t tell the difference with O’Neal. 

“His mindset at practice was the same way he played the game which is rare,” Perkins said. “Lot of guys are not practice guys but are gamers. He would work tremendously hard at practice and try to make himself better. His passion and respect for the game was one thing that he had that others didn’t.”

Lochridge was considered the next great STM baseball player that could make it the big leagues — a list that includes Mike Mahtook and Andrew Stevenson.

“It was very exciting time for all of us,” Lochridge said. “I stopped playing football after my junior season to work in the offseason to improve in the sport that I was planning on playing forever. 

“I worked hard to get all those stats but I give credit to the Lord for giving me the talent — and on top of that there were a lot of guys on those teams at STM that had a lot of talent and worked just as hard as I did. It made it exciting time for all of us.”

Lochridge though had also caught the attention of several big league ball clubs starting in the summer before his senior season as he took part in marquee events like the East Coast Pro Showcase and the Area Code Baseball Underclass Games. Lochridge worked out for teams, general managers, and scouts from the likes of the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Texas Rangers.

The big league clubs all coveted Lochridge, and hoped to persuade the STM star to bypass college, and LSU, all together. Through the process, teams indicated that Lochridge would be drafted around the fifth round. 

“It was honor for him and for our family,” father James Lochridge said. “Our heads were spinning but it was not life-changing money. O’Neal just had the mindset of let me go to LSU and if I get drafted in three years then that would be great but he really wanted to play for LSU.”

Lochridge was bound for Baton Rouge but the dream proved to be short-lived. 

“A year after everything happened someone asked me, do you wish he would taken the money and went to the big leagues,” James said. “That thought never occurred me and despite what happened we wouldn’t change it.”

O’Neal Lochridge and his father pose for a photo during his freshman season at LSU. Photo courtesy of Lochridge Family


‘It was surreal’

Lochridge arrived at LSU in the fall of 2015 and immediately began working on becoming a starter. He spent that fall camp competing with Cole Freeman, Tre Dawson and Chris Reid, trying to make the transition from high school shortstop to college third baseman.

But he found himself on the bench for the 2016 season opener against Cincinnati at Alex Box Stadium.

He didn’t stay on the bench for long. Lochridge, after being put into the game, drew a walk in his first at-bat, got a single in his second plate appearance and ended up scoring the game-winning run in a 6-5 victory.

“It was emotional,” O’Neal said. “That was the dream. It was I had worked for all those years. It was surreal.”

“For my wife and I, it may sound corny but we would pinch ourselves in the stands and ask if this was really happening,” James said. “He always wanted to play baseball in college and when it finally happened it was surreal.”

Lochridge didn’t play at all in the second game of the series but then he got the text, that he was hoping for.

“I got a text message during dinner with my family from coach that I was going to start on Sunday,” O’Neal said. “It was an awesome feeling.”

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with roommate and fellow Lafayette native Antoine Duplantis on base, Lochridge launched the first pitch he saw over the left field wall.

“I had the chills,” O’Neal said. “I had hit it right down the third base line and I thought that the wind was going to push it foul. There was an actually funny picture on Twitter that Antoine (Duplantis) posted of a photo of Sammy Sosa with my head on it just bouncing down the line watching the ball. 

“I wasn’t meaning to pimp it but I was just watching it and saying to myself ‘please stay fair, please stay fair,’” laughed O’Neal. “Once it went fair you could hear the roar of the stadium. I felt like I had my name with that moment.”

“He could hit the ball a country mile,” Mainieri said. “He could always turn his hips fast enough to generate the bat speed. He brought something unique to the team with his ability to hit the ball out of the ball park.”

That night wouldn’t be the last time Lochridge rounded the base paths, but it proved to be very much the high point of his career — a promising career in the purple and gold that would come to a painful end.


O’Neal Lochridge holds the state championship trophy while posing for a photo with his mom Jan, sister Lilly, dad and brother Cam. Photo courtesy of Lochridge Family

A punch to the gut

On Tuesday, March 8, 2016 Lochridge was batting eighth in the lineup as LSU hosted Louisiana Tech in a non-conference game. In the bottom of the second, Lochridge walked to the plate having no idea that this at-bat would change his collegiate career — and life.

“I got out of the box and took a practice swing,” Lochridge remembered. “I felt it. It was like a shock down my leg and in my back. I wasn’t going to say anything. I was just going to push through it and talk to trainer after the game.

“I actually got a double in that at-bat but I could feel it when I was running to second,” Lochridge said. “There was a photo out there and you could see the pain on my face.”

Lochridge played the rest of the game and was set to play that weekend series against visiting Ball State.

But the pain kept bothering him for the next two days. An MRI revealed a stress fracture in his back. 

“I was bummed out because I felt that I had earned the starting job,” Lochridge said. “It was frustrating but there was nothing I could about it. I just was going to get rest and get back out there with my teammates.”

Lochridge would never play another inning for the Tigers.

The pain kept flaring up, which continued to push back his return to the lineup back. The day before a series with Ole Miss in late April, he came to a sobering realization.

“I was taking batting practice because I was determined to get back,” O’Neal said. “I was hitting balls as hard as I could and they were barely getting out of the infield. I knew something was wrong.”

“I remember watching him take BP that day,” Mainieri said. “He came over to me and told me that he couldn’t go because of the pain. My heart sank when he said that. He couldn’t do it, not because something he did, but because of an injury that he had no control over.”

Another MRI revealed that Lochridge was not healing at all. He was shut down for the remainder of the season, including the SEC Tournament, Baton Rouge Regional and Baton Rouge Super Regional.

“When the news really hit me it was a punch to the gut,” O’Neal said. “It was emotional. You work so hard to get there and then it is taken from you and you ask ‘why me?’ You feel it is unfair.’”

Lochridge might have felt it was unfair but he never imagined that the injury would snuff out his LSU career.

To get ready for summer ball, Lochridge needed another MRI but the news was even worse this time than the last. LSU’s team orthopedic surgeon discovered that not only did Lochridge have a PARS stress fracture, he also had a bulging disc and a nerve pinch on his L4, and his C6 disc was pinching a nerve as well.

The injury medically disqualified Lochridge to play for the Tigers. Not only was his LSU career over —  it appeared that his baseball career was over at the age of 19.

“I was distraught,” O’Neal said while holding back tears even now. “I had my identity taken away. I think God took that away from me to bring me back to hear his wisdom and how he is creating us to becoming a man. That was God’s way of humbling me and distract myself from the game. But in the moment I didn’t want to. That was my dream to play baseball at LSU.”

“It was devastating for him,” James said. “He’s not the type that is going to be screaming or say ‘why me?’ To be honest, I wish he didn’t eternalize so much. 

“I knew him well enough to know he was hurting internally,” James added. “All we wanted to do was to be strong for him. We kept telling him that life goes on and that he has long life ahead of him. That God has a plan for himself elsewhere.”

But he wasn’t going anywhere yet.

Moving on with life

Despite not being able to play baseball, Lochridge was still on scholarship and remained a student at LSU. In some ways, those semesters in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 proved to be harder than receiving the initial diagnosis. 

Lochridge roomed with Duplantis and was reminded daily that he was no longer a member of the LSU baseball team.

“I would watch him go to practice,” O’Neal said. “I would hang out with him and my teammates on the weekends because that was my fraternity but they were moving on without me. 

“The hardest part was opening day,” O”Neal said. “I remember I was driving by to go to class and I remember seeing the banners, I was crying all the way to class. It was real then. I thought to myself ‘I am never playing this game again’.”

“It was heartbreaking for me as his coach,” Mainieri said. “You have all these greats aspirations for him of what he can do. All those dreams and hopes are dashed.”

Lochridge began to pull back ever so slightly from his family and friends. He was still O’Neal, the good student and dutiful son, but he became more reserved and an air of melancholy seemed to surround him.

“He got quiet for a little while,” father James said.

O’Neal, an avid outdoorsman, expressed interest in getting himself a dog. His parents agreed, and soon the former LSU baseball star had a companion in a chocolate lab named Roux. 

“She lived with him during that time,” James said. “It was therapeutic in an unseen way. He also never looked back on the what ifs and he started moving on with his life.”

Life would unexpectedly bring baseball back to O’Neal.

Either out of boredom or curiosity, Lochridge decided one day around Thanksgiving that he was going to pick up a bat and just swing it to see what would happen. He hesitated for a few minutes but finally picked up the bat and swung.

“I thought to myself, maybe by the Grace of God I can swing it with no pain and somehow get back in the game,” O’Neal said. “I was leary about it because I know I wasn’t supposed to be, but I wasn’t feeling any pain when I swung.

“So I swung some more, and more and more. And still no pain.”

Lochridge wasn’t ready to tell anyone about this new development, though.

Instead, he started going to the batting cages and hitting balls sometime, either with Duplantis or just by himself.

“It was kind of my getaway,” “O’Neal said. “It became my peace of mind.”

Lochridge finally fessed up about his secret batting practice sessions to his family over holiday break. 

“He told me around Thanksgiving,” James said. “He said it was a very light thing. A dozen swings at 50 percent. My first instinct as his father was that I hope he doesn’t re-injure it or be disappointed. I also didn’t want him to think that I was elated either. I tried to downplay it because I could tell he was excited.”

The Lochridges decided to have another MRI to see if he had in fact healed.

“The MRI said I was all healed up and that I could possibly play again,” O’Neal remembered while holding back tears. “I started crying. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew that at least I had the option again to play. I thanked God.”

Afterwards, O’Neal and his dad went to the nearby Walk-Ons and discussed what his future would be on the diamond.


University of Louisiana third baseman O’Neal Lochridge has played the past two seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns. Photo courtesy of UL

Back in the swing of things

Lochridge had been given a clean bill of health but he still needed to go through the NCAA appeal process, and then find a place to play. No matter what, due to NCAA rules, he would never be eligible to play for LSU again.

“He sheepishly came in and told me that he was healed and that he wanted to play again,” Mainieri said. “I said ‘O’Neal I would be happy with wherever you want to go. I would be ecstatic for you. 

“I admired the kid for wanting to try but I was concerned about him coming to grips with the injury and moving on. When he came to me I had mixed emotions, because I didn’t want him to hurt himself but I wanted to support him.”

Lochridge had to figure out if he wanted to go to a junior college or lower division program, but finally settled on the hometown team — the University of Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.

“When he contacted us we decided to open the door because once again the character was there, we had once recruited him so we knew what kind of young man he was,” longtime UL head coach Tony Robichaux. “Hopefully if we give him more time then he get back to what he once was.

“The greatest thing about O’Neal is that he is a great kid, a hard worker, and a good person,” Robichaux said. “Those things, if he never gets back to where he once was as an athlete, then there is no shame in that because of who he is.”

Lochridge, though, had a long road back.

In addition to daily physical therapy sessions in Baton Rouge with Dr. Kelly Ryder, he was learning how to play baseball all over again and having to do it at a lighter weight — nearly 20 pounds less than his freshman season at LSU.

“I had a lot to learn,” O’Neal said. “You don’t realize how much you forgot from not playing.”

In Lochridge’s first season with the Cajuns, he appeared in 19 games with 10 starts and proved to be an asset with his glove at third base despite hitting only .121 on the season. The disappointing plate production didn’t matter, though, when he took the field for his first at-bat of 2018, in the season-opening series at the University of Texas.

Lochridge laced a double.

“I remember getting to second base and my knees were wobbly,” Lochridge said. “I had chills. No way is this really happening. I just want to sit there for hours and soak it all in. It wasn’t supposed to ever happen again.”

Unfortunately, the powerful swing that once made him a heralded prospect was still not there. This season, he batted .177 with one home run and 15 RBI.

“I have been back in the game now two years now and everyday I am still learning something,” O’Neal said. “It is a mental game like everyone says. I am also having to deal with relearning a swing on a stage where you need to already have your swing. I do wish and hope to perform better for this team.”

“It hasn’t buried him, it hasn’t broken him,” Robichaux said. “He might have had a fractured back early on. Now he is dealing with fractured back again because he is trying to be who he once was and can he get there? The difference maker is to not let that thing snap your back and snap your will. He may not see the advantage right now but down the road he will.”

Lochridge’s future is likely not on the baseball field and he has come to terms with that, putting some things in motion for life outside the white chalk lines.

He will graduate this summer with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is already set for graduate school starting in the fall.

“If I had a company I would hire him tomorrow,” Robichaux said. “He is a guy that is going to make it in the corporate world because of he is. I do believe that God takes us on journeys and sometimes when we go through them things are not going to be easy. Why did all that occur he will find out later when God pulls back the curtain and show him what his journey.”

“I don’t see myself anymore going and being a professional baseball player for 15 years,” O’Neal said. “That’s not why I am grateful to Coach Rob. I am more grateful because he saw something in me that allowed me to get back on the baseball field. I will forever be grateful to him for that.”