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With spotlight away, Neal needs to make strides

Feb 29, 2012, 3:45 PM EDT


For Notre Dame fans, landing elite recruit Davonte Neal was a welcome boost to recruiting. Considered one of the best athletes in the country, Neal could be the type of plug-and-play guy that could help ease the loss of another player that made an immediate impact at the wide receiver position: Michael Floyd.

But the enthusiasm that surrounded Neal also meant Irish fans had to put on blinders. Because only a true Domer could look past some of the antics that came with reeling in the two-time Arizona player of the year.

Viewed by itself, you can start to rationalize the circus that took place at Kyrene de la Esperanza, when Neal left 600 elementary students — not to mention dozens of media members and a Fox Sports Arizona’s live web-broadcast — at the altar, making a last minute decision to delay the press conference he himself called.

The family said little about the delay, though his father said a family emergency necessitated the delay. And while Neal did the mature thing and apologized to the students he was supposed to be inspiring, the family originally asked for the broadcast crew to return to the grade school so the announcement — hours later than originally planned — could still receive the same fanfare. The Fox Sports broadcast crew declined the invitation.

This wasn’t the first event that had football fans bristling. The Neal family, led by Davonte’s father Luke, have seen their share of detractors grow as the recruiting process dragged on and on. Supporters can rightfully point out that taking your time and picking your college is a right every high school senior should enjoy, especially after Davonte delayed the beginning of his recruitment so he could focus on football. But that focus on football — something that’s consistently been a part of the Neal family’s dynamic — hasn’t always translated to a successful career at Notre Dame.

The high profile transfer of Davonte earlier in the week isn’t necessarily a shocking decision. The same thing happened after Neal’s sophomore season at Cesar Chavez high school, when Davonte left to join the powerhouse Chaparral program. On the football field, the decision was undoubtedly a good one, with the Firebirds completing a rare three-peat state championship. But with football gone, Neal departed to Phoenix Central high school, displaying an unusual detachment from one-half of the tenants of a student-athlete.

Again, to the Neal’s credit, there is solid rationale being displayed by the family. When discussing the move with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Luke Neal said the move was designed to clear away distractions and help Davonte focus on the road ahead.

“That’s exactly what this is, an opportunity to focus on school with no distractions,” Luke Neal told Irish Illustrated. “It’s just ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ now at the school. He can just go to class, come home, work out. That’s it.”

There’s no doubt that the distractions that come with being an elite recruit have grown exponentially as the recruiting machine has taken over. But with the spotlight past Neal and his decision, it’s time for Davonte to prove that the nontraditional path he took through recruiting proved to be more the anomaly than his circuitous path through high school.

Brian Kelly has spent much of his first two years working on a culture that focused too much on attaining the next step. Whether it was Charlie Weis using his Super Bowl rings to promote his NFL pedigree or top-end players like Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Kyle Rudolph leaving early for the NFL when they weren’t  locks to go in the draft’s first round, the Irish football program seemed to lose track of the sense that the proverbial name on the back of the jersey wasn’t as important as the name on the front. To that point, signing Neal might be the biggest risk Kelly has taken as he’s pushed to make the collective goal winning at Notre Dame, not what awaits on future Sundays, an allure that was too much for Clausen, Tate and Rudolph.

Of course, at Notre Dame there’s no place on either side of the jersey for names, a symbol that the traditional blue and gold and the interlocking ND say everything needed. After having all-eyes on him for much of his high school career, maybe that anonymity will do Neal some good.

  1. 808raiderinparadise - Feb 29, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    Ahhhhhhhhh, at last. This was a great article :)

    I follow a similar conciousness regarding the ND program under Kelly, at some point ND needs to take “risk” players in recruiting, because in the end … you have to have diverse players, with different backgrounds, not every student athelete has to be majoring in accounting and finance on the side …. ND is revered as one of the best academic universities in the country and as well for student-athletes ….. nothing will be tainted by a player like Neal who seemingly wants to get away from “distractions”

    Golson the starter!

    Groom Gunner.

  2. nudeman - Feb 29, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I think the HS transfer was all about grades. Nothing else makes a lot of sense.

    The article I read said his class ranking would improve immediately at the new place. Not sure if class rank is something ND takes into account in the admissions process, but it soulds like it’s easier to get decent grades there than at Chapparal.

    Last thing anybody wants to hear now is that Neal flunked a class.

    • Keith Arnold - Feb 29, 2012 at 4:14 PM

      Nude – If grades were a problem right now, they wouldn’t have accepted his letter-of-intent. I don’t want to speculate on why the transfer, and I’m inclined to give his dad the benefit of the doubt, especially since they seem to have been making business-first decisions from the start.

      • gman3410 - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:13 PM

        Do you know why NBC doesn’t cut up the full game replays online anymore? I loved watching full game replays in 40 minutes, just back to back plays by quarter. Can you please help make it happen again?

  3. poppajohn818 - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    In AZ you can go to any school as long as you can get there, so this is available to everyone, why not take advantage of it

  4. sullyp18 - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    His transferring is the most odd move out of everything Neal and his father have done. Class ranking has nothing to do with his acceptance into ND. I could understand if he was going for a scholarship for academic reasons because being in the top 10% guarantees you a scholarship into a state University but in this case he is not looking for a academic scholarship. Before he announced he was going to ND, I was hoping that all the crazy rumors about Neal’s dad weren’t true, its seems to me that they were all true and this guy is controlling all aspects of his kids life. The best thing about Neal going to ND is his chance to grow as a man and get away from his father. I think the one thing is dad did that was right is pushing his son to go to ND, that way he can get a great education, possibly have a great career and get to the next level, and get the heck away from his family. It will be tough for his dad to control every step his son takes from AZ, at this point I would not be surprised to hear that Luke Neal moved to South Bend and Davonte made the “choice” to live with his dad. Crazy Stuff, I hope Keller and team can help this kid out and show him he made the right decision. GO IRISH!!!!!!

  5. herringbonesports - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:56 PM

    Great piece Keith. I think you hit the nail on the head with what we’re all thinking and hoping for in regards to Neal. While he’s ESPN’s highest rated “Athlete” he really tops off a pretty elite haul in regards to “athletes” in this class.

    If he lives up to the billing – great. If one of the more under the radar guys (Brown or Baratti for example) exceeds expectations and fills major holes at WR in 2013/14, then that would be great too. When a class compiles so many guys in similar molds, the likelihood of one of them being a star seems inevitable. We only hope Neal follows the path and lives up to the expectations.


  6. ndrocks2 - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    Guys as everyone reminds us this is a big deal for this family and they want to get it right. They are a little more special than every other recruit in the nation. Drama & Daddy Drama will stop once they get to ND and fall in line like every other recruit. What red flags have we seen that would suggest otherwise?

  7. norcalirish - Mar 1, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Lol I wouldn’t be surprised if BK lobbies to put names on the back of the jerseys permanently within the next 2 years.

    • 1historian - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      I would not like that. I am told that when the irish play in a bowl they wear names on the back of their game shirts and the seniors get to keep those shirts. I like that.

      • 9irish - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:08 AM

        I agree with that completely. It looks neat in bowl games, other than that this uniform fiddling trend needs to stop.

  8. seanb20124 - Mar 1, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    He is a kid, and entitled to make some mistakes.

  9. ctfivula - Mar 1, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    I believe everyone is digging too deep into this. Has anyone here ever been to high school? This kid was/is a star at a school known for football. He has been a part of a very public event that made him and his family look rather foolish. I think he is a very sensitive kid. I believe there is a possibility that he was feeling pressure from and getting a lot of negative comments from fellow students and possibly faculty members for a lot of the decisions that he and his family have made recently. Keep in mind the high school coach who was probably considered a god at this school was hired at UA. Fellow players have committed to UA. Is it possible that he just wants to be left alone? That being said I do have some worries about this kid but I do believe that in order for ND to truly become elite they need to take chances on a few of these kids. I just hope that if and when the time comes to make a tough decision about him that ND does the right thing. The last thing I want is for the Irish to finally win a BCS title or bowl and have a black cloud over it because they held onto a guy that should have been let go.

    • mmanor01 - Mar 1, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      I agree. He left to get away from his “friends” and other students who probably all turned on him when he turned down UA.

  10. sullyp18 - Mar 1, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Thats what I think is the most foolish thing about him transferring. If there were remarks being made and he was treated differently, this is a perfect learning experience for a kid to teach him that certain decisions have repercussions. This is teaching him to run away from his problems because you can always avoid them somehow.

    • nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      Everyone has good points here. Good to see no one is trashing Davonte or Luke.

      There’s nothing that unusual about a Dad and a son disagreeing about a college choice.

      As for the switch of HS, Luke’s explanation makes sense. Get him away from his boys and temptations, no track this Spring, just academics and training. There are a lot of examples of bad parenting out there, and most start with neglect and screwed up priorities. Luke Neal is very involved and appears to just want the best for his son. Sounds like a good man to me.

      And by the way, did anyone else notice that Davonte is up to 177 lbs now?

      The overwhelming likelihood is that by October, long after he’s scored his first ND TD, all this will be forgotten.

    • mayo1010 - Mar 1, 2012 at 12:22 PM

      Agreed with 100% sully!

    • ctfivula - Mar 1, 2012 at 5:15 PM

      Not every problem has the same solution. Sometimes it’s best when things have gotten so far out of control to just remove yourself from the negativity of the moment. Do we really expect this kid to just deal with the amount of crap that he really could be facing on a day to day basis. I applaud the fact that someone has the vision to make this move now before something terrible is done to him and he feels the need to retaliate. Then what will you say? “Just another thug football player” Somehow I feel like no matter what this kid does from now on certain people will always choose to look at this guy as a bad person. I am however still very concerned about the extent in which Luke is influencing his son and hope that He does not follow him to SB. That would not be a good thing at all. I do believe that Brian Kelly is smart enough to see the writing on the wall with this kid and the potential firestorm that could be on his hands should things go in the wrong direction. I mean seriously this is essentially a multi million dollar corporation that Kelly is CEO of I have to believe that they are keeping in contact with this kid whether we hear or read about it or not. I know i would be making sure that we all are on the same page with what is expected.

  11. sullyp18 - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    is anyone from Phoenix on this board, if so you know that the move to Central doesn’t make sense. Its not like Central represents a superior academic institute. Maybe an easier A but not necessarily helping challenge his son.

    • nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:57 AM

      Yes, I live in the area.

      Central is def not a better school and it is also farther away from their home. So on the surface it’s a perplexing move. But this isn’t about beefing Davonte up in the classroom; it’s about eliminating social distractions. Also, he won’t be running track this Spring either.

      Is this “unusual”? Yes.

      But I can see how it makes sense.

  12. 1historian - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    Good luck kid.

  13. jvsirish - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    About 8 years ago at a MSU athletic dept./corporate sponsor golf outing lunch we asked coach Tom Izzo what he saw as the biggest change/challenge in college basketball. He said that it began about 5 years earlier — kids leaving college a year or two early for a risky shot at the NBA. The extra time in college could have gauranteed a pro career. Invariably the dad was the driving force in the leave eary decision — more often than not tothe deteriment of the kid. Let’s hope the Neal scenario doesn’t unfold negatively.

  14. roundabout56 - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    sorry, but dad’s behavior is a serious red flag. I have seen this before. I am involved in the process. The transfers MIGHT have a legit reason, but they repeat. Treating the school and the school experience as something to get through so dad can maximize the boy’s value is a problem. Dad may live in AZ, but he will have a cell phone. The athlete will have to face some challenge and adversity. Coaches will express dissatisfaction. He will get hit harder than ever before. Dorm food. Girls. Academic challenges. He will have some tough moments. And if the pattern is call dad and have dad sympathize, accept the student’s perception without question, try to solve the problem for the student, you have trouble. There is a great deal of pressure on this kid to outgrow his father and fast. Possible unhappy situation, poor production and transfer.

    • nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 11:07 AM


      Anything is “possible”, including Davonte gets to ND, does well in the classroom, excels on the field, bonds with Nix, Tuitt, Kiel, etc, meets a nice girl, goes through a very normal maturation process in the next 4 years, then looks back at going to ND as the greatest thing he’s ever done.

      That’s possible too. And I’d say more likely than the crash and burn scenario you’ve hypothesized.

      Not trying to be a wise guy with the above at all, but everyone has pre-judged this young man and his Dad. From what I’ve heard (I live in the area) Davonte is a very decent person, feet on the ground and somewhat humble. Dad is more involved than a lot of Dads, but Davonte was a troubled kid in his earlier years, so there’s reason for staying so close to him.

      I say we all lay off and let the process unfold. I don’t think he or his Dad are reading this board, but we’re making too much of every little thing here.

      • mayo1010 - Mar 1, 2012 at 12:28 PM

        Well said Nude.

      • bernhtp - Mar 1, 2012 at 3:32 PM

        There are no certainties here, but the odds are that Davonte will be among the 97% rather than the 3%. Notre Dame has an excellent support system and commitment to the success of its athletes, and students more generally.

        Kelly has checks and balances in Admissions. They will work with him, but ultimately won’t admit a student they lack confidence will succeed. Unlike other universities, a failed situation at ND can do far more harm than the benefit even a star player can provide. If ND has reason to lose this confidence, he won’t be enrolling in the summer.

    • mmanor01 - Mar 1, 2012 at 1:50 PM

      The Dad is making the right decisions for his son to succeed. It is very easy to screw things up in the Spring with no football to keep you occupied. By focusing on academics and training, Davonte will be prone to making bad decisions. Also, all of Luke’s decisions up till now would lead me to believe that he would never let Neal go to the NFL early.

  15. nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Tommy should start, btw.

  16. sullyp18 - Mar 1, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    Nudeman, what do you think about the kid out of Brophy ND just offered. My family is good friends with his head coach so I am sure I will hear something from him. Whats your take?

    • nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 3:27 PM

      I saw the link and looked the kid up in Rivals. Sounds like a speed burner. Beyond that no insight or previous knowledge. I have one daughter and she’s still in Catholic elementary school in Scottsd so I’m not that tuned in to the HS athletic scene yet, unless they show up on ND’s radar.

      I’d sure love to see ND start tapping into PHX a little more successfully than has been the case so far. Neal is a start. Maybe your Brophy guy is next. I’m curious – what do you hear about his level of interest/excitement about ND? Just another offer to him? Or is it special in his mind?

      Sorry … his name again?

  17. roundabout56 - Mar 1, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Am saying there is a serious red flag. Where smoke there is often fire.

    he transferred because dad was angry at coaches for pushing him to stay in AZ and because dad perceived the coaches were using him for a ticket to coach in college. But dad was in conflict with administrators and coaches before this happened. Same at first school. Dad is not satisfied and always find fault.

    I do not predict crash and burn. But there will be the normal issues that come up. Past history is for dad to defend his kid and circle the wagons against the school. This will play out again.

    If dad moves to SB, watch out.

    • nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 3:19 PM

      Did not know that about the HS coaches pushing him to AZ. That’s fairly contemptible, even if it wasn’t to enhance their own careers.

      I guess Luke is something of the X Factor regarding Davonte’s future at ND. Will he be a pain in the ass if Davonte doesn’t get the playing time Dad thinks he should? God I hope not. If they think there is friction between them over the recruiting stuff, that would be worse.

  18. gpatton90 - Mar 1, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    If he had chosen AZ and then transferred, most of would be posting “thank goodness he didn’t come to ND, look at the circus he is creating – not the RKG”. Tke the bias out of it, and I agree with roundabout. Seems to me fromm way out on the east coast the Davonte is a good kid and has a great opportunity to succeed. That being said, Dad has……

    Changed Schools for his son
    Decided to start recruitment process in mid-December
    Decides on decision date after signing day
    Doesn’t show up because Davonte wasn’t sold at that point and doesn’t bother to call the school
    Asks the media to come back hours later
    Transfers his son yet again

    One of these on its own is no big deal, and the guy always seems to have some legitimate excuse. However, adding all the pieces, quite frankly, he is putting a ton of undue pressure on Davonte and exposing him to negative criticism and pressures that the young man does not deserve.

    From the outside, appears that Dad is basking in the limelight to the detriment of his son.

    Hopefully he steps back and lets him become a man on his own.

    • nudeman - Mar 1, 2012 at 4:58 PM

      Am I the only one who thinks his Dad did the kid a huge “life favor”?

      I know 18 year old kids think they can make their own decisions and they’ll always make the right choice. But sometimes a parent knows better.

      I wish I’d listened more to my Dad well into my 30s.

      Davonte Neal’s life is much better served from EVERY standpoint by going to ND. Needs to get past some homesickness and cold weather. That’s it. Welcome to being 18, kid.

  19. sullyp18 - Mar 1, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Nudeman the recruits name is Devon Allen, the football coach is Scooter Molander. No news yet but next time I am back in Phoenix ill see if I can get the run down.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:22 PM

      Ask your gym buddies maybe they know the kid.

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