A model of versatility, the lightning-quick Neal has racked up 943 all-purpose yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions through seven games his senior season. A three-time team captain, he committed to Oklahoma in June, where he'll play as a wide receiver.Read More Below
De Smet Jesuit (Mo.) coach Pat Mahoney thinks it began with a leaping touchdown catch during a playoff game Durron Neal's freshman year. But for Neal, the path to becoming one of the nation's top-ranked receivers started two years earlier. That's when Keith Little, his stepfather, first entered his life. Little forced Neal -- then exclusively a baseball player -- to try out for football.
Neal originally quit during a cousin's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. But when he couldn't find a baseball team the following summer, he gave football one last shot.
"The rest is history," said Neal. "I thank God for [Keith] every day. He's the one that taught me to play."
Neal has plenty to be thankful for. The son of a single mother until he was eight, he still managed to attend De Smet, a prep school that produced Oregon State running back Malcolm Agnew and Missouri wideout Wes Kemp. Mahoney, who led the Spartans to their only state championship in '05, coached all three. He thinks Neal is the best of the bunch.
"Honestly, I don't know where his weakness is," Mahoney said. "From the first moment he came onto the field his talent was evident."
He certainly hasn't shied away from using his star. The 6-1, 195-pound wideout has lined up at receiver, running back, cornerback, safety, and quarterback since his sophomore season, also returning most kickoffs and punts. That level of responsibility would overwhelm most high school athletes. Instead, it's taught Neal to be a leader: He racked up 2,614 yards of total offense and 31 touchdowns as a junior.
"I always want to be on the field," he said. "Sometimes [Mahoney] would have to tell me to take a rest. I just love playing football."
Neal also loves life. He routinely sings and dances during practices, rapping whatever tune is stuck in his head. His outgoing personality has earned him a nickname: Radio. "It seemed like there was no way to shut him off," explained Mahoney.
He's quick to add that Neal has grown, though, both as a player and a person. A three-time team captain for his on-field responsibilities, he has gradually shifted from an individual to team focus. "When I first came in I was just trying to make a name for myself," Neal admitted.
That change is evident when he talks about Oklahoma, a program he committed to over Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan in June. He stresses how he can help the team in the kickoff game, how the team can use him in the slot. He's excited to play with sophomore wideout Kenny Stills, who told Neal he needs to improve if he doesn't want to watch Sooners games from the bench.
"He knows what's real and what ain't," said Neal. "I feel like I've known him a long time and I've only met him twice."
But the most telling sign of Neal's maturation? The reason he's happiest about receiving national press. It's not personal gain. It's to give his mother, Sharon, and Keith recognition.
Without their union, he might have never played football.