After a recruitment that was high on drama and excitement, Notre Dame fans hope Davonte Neal brings the same thing to the football field as he enrolls in summer school today. Neal, who flew into South Bend on Sunday, represents one of the best options to walk in and contribute in an offense that’s desperately looking to fill the production void Michael Floyd has left behind now that he’s wearing an Arizona Cardinals uniform.
At 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, nobody is going to confuse the diminutive Neal with the former Irish star. But Neal’s pedigree is every bit as impressive as Floyd’s was coming out of high school. Neal’s prep exploits are well known, but worth mentioning again. Two-time Gatorade state player of the year. An all-region player as a freshman star receiver and defensive back at Laveen Cesar Chavez before transferring to Chaparral High in Scottsdale, where his team won back-to-back-to-back championships. Wondering about his speed? Neal anchored the state-record 4×100-meter relay, the fifth-best time nationally, as a true freshman.
With Neal leaving Arizona after an incredible prep career, he caught up with former Notre Dame star Bertrand Berry last Friday on his radio show to discuss moving on to South Bend. He was asked pointedly on what his goals were entering his first season with the Irish.
“My goals are to just do my part,” Neal said. “Do what I can for the team. Do what’s best for the team. If that means being a starter and the coaches put me on the field, then that’s what’ll happen. I’m looking to go up there and have fun, contribute for the team, and do what’s best for the team.”
Neal’s response is more polished than some might expect from a guy that got a ton of bad press for not showing up for his own press conference to announce his college decision at his grade school. It was a situation he learned from, and one that’ll likely help as he comes under an even more intense microscope in South Bend. But as he prepares for that scrutiny, Neal has also had an unlikely mentor in the process helping him along: Michael Floyd himself.
His relationship with the former Irish receiver has flourished with both being in the Phoenix area, and has helped give Davonte an idea of what life will be like under the Golden Dome.
“Mike and I have talked a lot and he has told me what to expect and how Notre Dame will help me succeed, not just in footballbut in life,” Neal told the Arizona Republic’s Richard Obert. “That is what I was always looking for in a college. I know some colleges, it’s all about football. But Notre Dame makes sure you do your class work and you do it well. They teach you priorities.”
Neal will have a few months this summer to help with the adjustment period from high school to college, an adjustment worth watching for someone that spent time at three different high schools in the past four years. On the field, it looks like Neal will focus his efforts at wide receiver, with the running back depth chart stacked and the Irish willing to roll the dice with what they have at cornerback. (There isn’t much doubt that Neal could play corner, but the Irish staff thinks Neal might be too good on the offensive side not to play there.)
With fitness tests and classes all set for today, it’s total immersion for Neal and his fellow freshmen. It also could be the start of a highly-anticipated Irish career.