Mark Richt weighs in on how recent losses have affected recruiting
For the Miami Hurricanes to beat out the Alabama Crimson Tide and land Evan Neal, they knew they’d have to get creative. Alabama has a track record for developing offensive linemen and virtually guarantee every recruit who signs a national championship ring. For a five-star tackle like Neal, the Crimson Tide can be tough to pass up.
Right now, Miami can’t exactly offer any of those things. The Hurricanes didn’t even win their division this season and have only had one offensive lineman picked in the last three NFL Drafts, with no obvious draft prospect this year, either. To compensate, the Hurricanes have long focused on family with Neal and added another wrinkle to their pitch this weekend.
Miami brought the Bradenton IMG Academy offensive lineman down to Coral Gables for his official visit this weekend. Dontae Lucas, a four-star guard from IMG Academy and Miami native, tagged along, too, and so did Edrick Neal.
You won’t find a recruiting profile for the latter prospect on 247Sports.com or Rivals.com. His offer list mostly consists of Division II programs like the University of West Florida in Pensacola, the University of West Georgia in Carrollton and the University of West Alabama in Livingston. Now, there’s one Division I team targeting as a preferred walk-on. The Hurricanes are offering the Neal brothers a chance to suit up alongside one another at Hard Rock Stadium. For walk-on prospect, the idea might be difficult to pass up.
“It would because that’s been our dream, to all go to the NFL,” he said earlier this week after wrapping up the visit, “but at the end of the day you only get one moment like this. This is Evan’s moment. This is his time to shine. Evan’s put in a lot of work.
“As far as having the chance to go to Miami and play, that would be great, man, but at the end of the day Evan’s options are completely open. I don’t want him to feel like I’m influencing him to go somewhere just because I’ve got some personal interest.”
The importance of Evan Neal to the Hurricanes’ Class of 2019 is obvious. Miami currently has no offensive linemen committed and is losing Tyree St. Louis, its best offensive lineman and starting left tackle, after the season. Neal is the No. 25 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings and has two relatives who played for the Hurricanes — former running back Cleveland Gary is Neal’s cousin and former defensive lineman Jimmie Jones is his uncle — which meant he grew up in a family of Miami fans. The Hurricanes looked like the early favorite for Neal, who constantly said they were recruiting his parents better than anyone else. Instead, the Crimson Tide now holds 89 percent of predictions in the 247Sports Crystal Ball.
Edrick Neal, on the other hand, will have only two years of eligibility wherever he lands. A 2016 graduate of Okeechobee, Neal was a walk-on offensive lineman with the Central Florida Knights for one semester, then enrolled at D-II Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. In high school, Neal said he played at about 450 pounds, although he’s now down around 390.
This weekend, the Hurricanes made sure both the Neals — and about half a dozen other relatives — felt wanted. The eldest brother also spent time in South Florida for the visit, as did Neal’s three sisters, a cousin and both parents. They arrived for the visit Thursday night, then spent time with coach Mark Richt and offensive line coach Stacy Searels on Friday. On Saturday, the Neals wrapped up their visit by spending time with Richt again, and meeting with strength and conditioning coach Gus Felder. Linebacker Patrick Joyner hosted the older brother and defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau hosted the younger.
“We all just bonded and it really felt like home,” Edrick Neal said. “We all really connected.”
It’s been a long time since the Neals suited up alongside one another. Evan Neal spent only his freshman year with the Brahmans before transferring to IMG after the 2015 season.
Even when they were apart, the brothers stayed close. Edrick Neal spent the spring of 2017 at Central Florida and shed about 60 pounds. At the same time, Evan Neal was trying to trim weight with the Ascenders. From 140 miles apart, they still became partners in the same journey, constantly calling one another to check in on the other’s progress.
Evan Neal will make his college choice Dec. 19, the first day of the early-signing period, then early enroll at the school of his choice. The Hurricanes hope the two brothers can keep pushing each other, this time from the same locker room.
“I don’t see it as competition or anything. I see it as motivation because that’s my little brother. I want to encourage him to do everything he can to be the best he can be,” Edrick Neal said. “My dad and my mom always raised us to, you know, always have these checks and balances within ourselves because at the end of the day we’re the only true friends we have.”