Jan 24, 2012, 11:46 AM EDT
Perusing the internet last night I stumbled upon two excellent articles written on two terrific student-athletes that Notre Dame is recruiting. While they come from opposite corners of the country, both Nelson Agholor and Davonte Neal have overcome incredible odds to find themselves in a place where they have their choice to attend some of the very best schools in the country.
Both articles (here’s the link to Agholor, here’s the link to Neal) deserve to be read, and give you some addition insight into two recruits you most likely know for their offer lists and potential spot on the Irish depth chart. As we looked at yesterday, the Irish face a battle for both prospects, but it’s one well worth fighting.
The Tampa Bay Times had a wonderful look into the life of Agholor,who came to the United States from Nigeria at the age of 5 when his parents were looking to provide a better life for their family.
Joey Knight of the TampaBay.com gives us a little more insight:
The Agholor family arrived in New York from Lagos, Nigeria — where Felix had been well educated and played high-level soccer — when Nelson was 5. Older brother Franklin said the family, which didn’t yet include youngest sister Ruby, had planned to settle in Maryland.
When those relatives couldn’t be reached, Franklin said, the family was taken in by other relatives in Carrollwood after boarding a train for Orlando, then a bus for Tampa. When Nelson’s parents found work, the family settled in a three-bedroom apartment near USF.
“My dad and my mom made sacrifices, whatever they needed to make, to move the family to the states,” said Agholor, who has an older brother (Franklin) in junior college and a sister (Valerie) in nursing school. “It’s just what they wanted in our lives, to be here.”
It was in the Suitcase City patch of northeast Tampa, besmirched by heavy crime and seedy influences, that Franklin says his younger brother developed a “street savvy” out of necessity and learned to think on his feet — traits that would assist him in the recruiting process.
Developing football skills, while playing for at least three local youth football teams, would come later. Initially, Franklin said, Nelson was awful.
“Nelson was about that big,” said Franklin, putting a centimeter between his thumb and index finger. “A toothpick. He was quick, he wasn’t fast. He just wanted to play. He just liked doing it because his older brother (Felix Jr.) and I played.”
His skills on the field obviously blossomed, with Agholor rushing for over 1,900 yards during his senior season. Whatever school he picks from — Florida, Florida State, USC, Oklahoma and Notre Dame are his finalists — will be getting a classy young man in addition to one of the nation’s best players.
“I’m going to contact every school that I’m not going to and let them know I appreciate everything,” Agholor told the Times. “It’s going to be hard, but as a man, I think they have an obligation to get the best players to keep their jobs. I have an obligation to find the best school to help my job in the future.”
In Arizona, recruiting is still full speed ahead for Davonte Neal, who will still take official visits after Signing Day because he started the process after leading his Chaparral high school team to another state championship.
The 5-foot-10 prototype slot receiver could make an instant impact on any team’s offense, with the evidence found in the 16 rushing and 14 receiving touchdowns he scored this season. (He also played defensive back, a position he could easily play in college as well.) Helping guide Neal through the perils of recruiting is his father, Luke Neal.
As Paola Bolvin of the Arizona Republic writes, that wasn’t always the case.
Luke Neal had a difficult upbringing. His mom left when he was young and he was raised by his grandmother.
“One of my great accomplishments in life is that I made it through growing up in south-central Los Angeles and lived to tell about it,” he said.
He was a troubled teenager and a lost young adult. Even after Davonte’ was born, he didn’t stay in touch with his son’s mother.
“It’s a vicious cycle young African-American males goes through,” Luke Neal said. “We do this, and we have to stop. I’m doing everything I can to be the right father now.”
When Davonte’ was 9, Luke reached out to his son’s mother, who was living in Akron, Ohio, with hopes of connecting with his son. Luke was in a soul-searching place. He had coached at Dorsey High in Los Angeles and at several junior colleges but was looking for more in his life.
He spent two week with Davonte’ in Akron. After he left, the young boy asked his mom, Kito Williams, if he could come to Arizona and live with his dad.
After feeling confident Luke could handle the responsibility, she said OK. Davonte’ flew to Phoenix, and as soon as he stepped off the plane, Luke started crying.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to be a parent,'” he said. “I think for the first time I had found true love.
“I don’t think people realize how much I love my son. In the past, it was easy for me to pick up and leave because that’s the hand I was dealt.”
Luke worked at a variety of places — including a finance agency and a car wash — but he still struggled at times. For several months, he lived in a friend’s U-Haul truck without anyone knowing.
He would borrow the truck from a friend who owned a mail store in Ahwatukee, saying he needed to move some things. He would pick up Davonte’ from middle school and drop him off at Williams’ home. He would park at the far end of the complex she lived in and sleep in the truck at night. He would pick up his son in the morning and take him to school before returning the truck.
No one ever knew.
The elder Neal makes it clear that he alone was responsible for the mistakes of his past, telling the Republic, “It’s very important to note I was a deadbeat dad. I want that to be known. I didn’t take care of my responsibilities then. I’m trying to do that now.”
With his family united in Arizona (Davonte’s mother moved to Arizona shortly after he did to stabilize the family), Davonte’ flourished as a student athlete, transferring from a neighboring high school to Chaparral, where the school has won back-to-back-to-back state championships. And after a rough start, Luke Neal has been the one guiding Davonte through a recruiting process that the elder Neal has experienced, from his coaching days back in Los Angeles.
“I’m so proud of who Davonte’ has become,” his mother Kito Williams told the Republic. “He’s grown into a young man. And I applaud his dad. The two have kind of grown up together.”