AUBURN, Ala. — Demetruce McNeal was back among those he considers his brothers Tuesday.
The former safety, who was dismissed from Auburn by coach Gus Malzahn last August, participated in the team’s pro day along with its other NFL hopefuls. It marked the first time he had spoken to reporters since last spring. And he took the opportunity to set the record straight about himself. Most notably, it included his unplanned departure last summer.
On Aug. 17, McNeal was arrested along with former Auburn players Jonathan Evans and Jawara White for possession of marijuana.
So what happened?
The way McNeal described it, he invited an unnamed teammate (while repeatedly stating he “didn’t want to name names”) over to his house to hang out. Once the teammate arrived, McNeal went upstairs to take a shower. When he got back downstairs, cops were at the door.
“All the police did was say they came in over a noise complaint at first,” McNeal said. “So I’m like, ‘OK, we can solve that. We’ll just turn the music down.’ So we turned it down and when I was getting ready to sit down, (the officer) said, ‘The neighbors smelt the scent of marijuana,’ and I’m like, ‘Huh? Ain’t nobody been smoking in here. I don’t smoke.’”
According to McNeal, the officer said things would be resolved quickly if someone confessed to owning the marijuana laying on the table. They would arrest the offender and leave the other people in McNeal’s apartment alone. But that didn’t happen. McNeal said the person responsible for the drugs left while he was in the shower.
For that, McNeal said he and others took the fall.
“So basically the other guy who did it with him — trying not to name any names — he didn’t want to confess to it, either, so me and the other guy we were left in the dark,” he said. “I’m inviting you over to my house to spend the night and you do me like that? I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Still, McNeal didn’t think the arrest would be significant enough to get him kicked off the team — especially when he explained the situation to Malzahn later that day.
“I know I’m innocent. I’ve been innocent the whole time,” McNeal said. “When I went in there and met with Coach Malzahn I told him, ‘Coach, I promise you I had nothing to do with it. (The drugs) are not mine. You can drug test me right now on the spot. I didn’t touch it.’ But he said what he had to say and then he just let me go. I wanted to break down crying, but I just had to weather the storm. They say God lets things happen for a reason, and so I just took it as that and moved on with my career.”
That led McNeal to Livingston, Ala., where he enrolled at West Alabama. He finished with 90 tackles for Auburn in 2012, second-most on the team. His level of play didn’t dip at West Alabama, as he tallied 63 takedowns (tied for most on the team) and snagged a team-best three interceptions.
Still, he admitted last fall was tough for him, as he experienced the magical season Auburn was authoring as nothing more than an observer.
“I’m not going to lie. It was kind of hard,” he said. “ Watching it every Saturday and going through Twitter and Instagram and getting things from fans like, ‘I bet you wish you were still out there with them guys.’ Yes, I wish I was. But I’m not. I congratulated them after every win.”
But even while watching from afar, McNeal was never disconnected with the team.
“It felt like he really never left,” said safety Ryan Smith, who constantly texted with McNeal. “It was just great for him to come back and compete in front of these pro scouts. He’s always been like a brother to us. We came in together, knew each other the whole time. I’m just proud of him.”
To secure an invite to the Tigers’ pro day, however, McNeal would have to get clearance from multiple channels. After talking with Malzahn, the coach was fine with it. However, Malzahn let the final decision rest with the seniors.
Their decision to welcome McNeal back didn’t take long.
“It was unanimous. We didn’t really care,” fellow defensive back Ryan White said. “We felt like he should have the chance. Demetruce has done a lot for Auburn. Just one bad mistake ended his Auburn career a little short. We had no problem with it.”
McNeal made the most of his chance, taking part in every drill on Tuesday. He unofficially ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash, had a 32.5 inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump. His only weak area was the bench press, where he only did seven reps of 225 pounds.
Not that he placed any emphasis on specific numbers.
“I didn’t give myself any expectations on nothing,” he said. “I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself. I just wanted to go out there and showcase my talent and do what I do and do what I do best.”
Between now and the NFL draft in May, he will alternate between working out in Auburn and Atlanta.
What areas does he plan on hitting the hardest?
“I want to improve on everything I can,” he said. “Speed. Strength. Explosiveness. Whatever I can to better my stock. That’s it, man. I’m going to take a few days off and then I’m going to get back to training.”
No, his career at Auburn didn’t end the way he wanted it to. But he’s past that now.
The future is all that matters to McNeal.
“I’m a good kid. I’ve never been in any trouble other than that night,” he said. “All I want to do is just play football. That’s it. Just play football and be the best football player I can be.”