Maryville Kendyl Onks

Maryville Kendyl Onks with her parents Chris and Tara is all smiles after signing on Tuesday to play soccer at Johnson University.

Kendyl Onks suffered her first concussion during a club tournament when she was in the eighth grade. It didn’t stop her soccer career from continuing to blossom.

The Maryville senior forward has experienced four more concussions during the past four years. None of them kept her from returning to pitch.

She endured her most recent concussion when her head slammed against the ground during the Bearden Invitational last September.

That injury was the most severe, keeping her on the sidelines for most of her senior year. It also gave Onks doubts about continuing her soccer career.

Ultimately, Onks once again persevered. She decided she was still going to pursue her lifelong goal of playing soccer at the next level.

“Everyone was telling me I shouldn’t be playing soccer, and if I got another (concussion), it would be really bad. But I really, really enjoy playing soccer. It’s something that I’ve revolved my entire life around, so not playing soccer for as long as I can really wasn’t something I wanted to do. Even though I had multiple concussions, I still want to put myself out there and keep playing. That’s why it didn’t stop me. I wanted to prove myself to my teammates and to everyone else.”

She accomplished that goal on Tuesday morning when she signed her letter of intent in front of teammates and family at Maryville High School. Maryville girls soccer coach Steve Feather began the signing ceremony by reminding the crowd of all the setbacks Onks overcame to earn an opportunity to play at the next level.

“It would be easy to throw in the towel when you are dealing with multiple concussions,” Feather said. “She’s a true story of resiliency and perseverance and passion for the game. I can’t remember a player who I have coached who has dealt with so many setbacks. I think it says a lot about her character for not letting those setbacks own her and giving her extra motivation to lace her cleats back up and continuing her career as a student athlete at Johnson University.”

Onks committed to Johnson because she believed the team environment was similar to the one she enjoyed at Maryville. Her Maryville teammates continued to encourage and uplift her when she couldn’t play last fall.

During that time, she wasn’t able to attend school for more than two hours, so her teammates always made sure to text her to see how she was doing.

When she visited Johnson’s campus, she felt like the women’s soccer program offered a similar support system.

“When I practice with (Johnson’s players) now, it isn’t nerve-wracking and it’s not like I’m freaking out,” Onks said. “I feel like I’ve been playing with them for awhile so it feels nice.”

TJ McCallum, who coaches Onks for Blount United Soccer Club, praised Onks’ intelligence on the pitch.

He said that her ability to find space between defenders often creates opportunities for her teammates to score in the attacking third. Feather commented that Onks’ work ethic and her energy helped the Lady Rebels reach their fifth straight tournament in six seasons.

Feather has no doubt that those attributes will help her succeed at Johnson University.

“I think she has already been through the ringer,” Feather said. “If she does have a setback, she will already know that she can overcome those setbacks and those roadblocks. So many freshmen and even sophomores get to college and aren’t used to the lack of playing time. Hopefully, she will get in there and compete right away for playing time, but if she doesn’t, she’s the type of kid who is going to have a stiff upper lip, grit her teeth and find her way to be in the mix of things. That’s the type of kid who is going to be a kid that a program like Johnson University wants.”

Follow @JonathanToye1 on Twitter for more from sports reporter Jonathan Toye.

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