- Radi Nabulsi, Reporter, DawgNation
Tight end Josh McNeil (Durham, N.C./Hillside) is going through his own personal March Madness. Thursday was the first day in March that he didn’t add a school to his growing list of offers.
Not too shabby for a guy who played in his first football game just seven months ago.
“Growing up, I was basically a basketball kid,” McNeil said. “Last year was my first year playing football. That shocked everybody. I played basketball my whole life and never played football, not even Pop Warner. Then I played one year of high school football and have picked up 18 offers. I have Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, N.C, State…I have about six SEC offers and offers from the ACC, Big 12, Conference USA and more. Just imaging if I had played all my life -- it would be scary.”
No one seems scared of offering the 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior despite his inexperience. Count the Bulldogs among those contributing to the madness.
“Me and the coaches were in contact for about a week on Facebook, and they said I had a really good season last year and asked if I could send them my tape,” McNeil said. “I sent them my tape and they loved me right out of the gate. I talked to Coach [John] Lilly and Coach [Rodney] Garner. We picked up from where we were talking on Facebook. They told me they really liked me and they said if I were to come to Georgia I would play immediately. Georgia has a good program. They actually have a tight end in the NFL combine this year and they are known for having good tight ends.”
As impressed as Georgia was with McNeil’s highlight tape, the Clemson coaching staff was even more dazzled.
“Clemson actually told me I was better than Dwayne Allen,” McNeil said. “When they told me that I was like, ‘I know you are recruiting me hard, but come on.’ They put the head man on and he said ‘I watched this tape and we haven’t seen anything like this before in our lives. Dwayne Allen’s tape wasn’t even this impressive’.”
McNeil acknowledges that the hyperbole can be overwhelming and is trying to keep a clear head amongst the whirlwind his recruitment has become. It was only out of a sense of frustration that he even tried football.
“My football coach was my best friend before I ever played football,” McNeil said. “He was the one I would go to for advice if I had problems at home or anything like that. He’d been telling me to play but I said, ‘No, I’m basketball, basketball, basketball.’ Well, then at the end of my sophomore year I had yet to get a basketball scholarship and he said, ‘Josh, give me two months and I will get you a Division 1 scholarship.’ And we did our first 7-on-7 at East Carolina and I got my first scholarship. I had not even put on shoulder pads yet.”
The Pirates apparently knew what lay in store of McNeil.
“ECU told me ‘We don’t even need to see you with shoulder pads on. We want to be the first to offer you because you are like a 30 offer guy.’ I was thinking they are crazy because I was struggling just to get one offer. The right at the beginning of my junior year I committed to East Carolina. I was overwhelmed and just committed. And then I started getting 4-5 offers a day right after signing day and I decommitted. I went from having two offers -- my second was from Vanderbilt -- to having 10 offers in like three days. I keep getting offers it seems like every day.”
The transition to football can be painful if you aren’t used to it. McNeil’s first introduction came at the hands of an Ohio State linebacker signee.
“Jamal Marcus was my childhood friend and he was the first person on the team to hit me,” McNeil said. “They called an out rout and he hit me square in the face. After that it was a wrap. He was the hardest hitter on the team and that is what helped me. After he hit me the first thing that came to my mind, ‘This may be easier than I thought.’ Ever since he hit me it has taken three or four people to take me down every time I caught the ball.”
And McNeil caught the ball a lot last year, racking up 58 catches for 578 yards and 6 touchdowns.
“Basketball got my hands right. My hands are about 100 percent. I can probably count on one hand how many balls I have dropped this season if the defender was on me or if I was open. My money route was the hitch -- I would catch the ball and make the first defender miss. I also liked posting a defender up and catching it in my big hands. I wear a 3X glove.”
Equipment managers across the country will be more than happy to special order McNeli some gloves. That is, once he decides where he wants to go.
“I haven’t really thought about any top schools,” McNeil said. “I am still kind of overwhelmed because I am still the person that never thought I would have this many offers. This is like a dream come true -- how many teams are willing to invest a quarter of a million dollars in scholarships. I guess when the reality hits and they start telling me I have to pick a school I think I will narrow it down then. Right now I am just taking everything in.”
To that end McNeil is hitting the road to acquaint himself with some of his suitors.
“I took four unofficial visits so far to East Carolina, Wake Forest, N.C. State and UNC,” McNeil said. “I am supposed to go to South Carolina on March 31 and then I am headed to Ohio State April 21. I am supposes to go to Georgia on spring break between April 9 and April 14.”
Looks like the madness will continue in April.
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough