After missing first press conference, Neal picks Irish

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With 600 grade schoolers assembled at Kyrene de la Esperanza elementary school, the finish line to Davonte Neal‘s recruitment was in sight. But with Fox Sports’ Arizona affiliate broadcasting the proceedings on the internet, a funny thing happened: Neal didn’t show up.

And so continued a recruitment that’s been both the very best and very worst of college football’s silly season. Neal, one of the truly elite players in the country and the player of the year in Arizona, decided to delay his decision three weeks past Signing Day, calling a press conference at his former grade school to pay tribute to the place where it all started for him. The optimistic side of a college football fan applauds Neal’s decision to take his time and focus first on another state championship run for his Chaparral squad, getting to his college choice after his obligation to his high school teammates was complete. The pessimist sees just another example of an elite player waiting out the herd, reveling in the attention of being the last big name on the recruiting board, reliving the role of a petulant child hiding his final Christmas present, waiting to open it until all the attention was squarely on him.

Either way, four hours later than the announced 9:30 presser, Notre Dame received a fax from one of its most heralded prospects, a dynamic offensive threat that’ll help ease the sting of missing out on Deontay Greenberry. In a bizarre waiting game that rankled more than a few, Neal’s self-imposed press extravaganza didn’t go off as planned because of a reported family rift. Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic reported that Neal was at odds with his father Luke, with the elder wanting his son to play for the Irish, while Davonte favored staying close to home and his mother.

However things shook out, this time the fax came to South Bend. Landing Neal is a major recruiting victory for Brian Kelly, who spoke more than once with Davonte in the past 24 hours. The Irish will immediately upgrade their return game, not to mention add a player that can make an impact in both the run and pass game.

“Deciding on a college is one of the toughest decisions a young player makes in his life, so we are very pleased with Davonte’s decision to attend Notre Dame,” Kelly said in a statement. “Davonte was an electric playmaker in high school and was capable of making the big play any time he had the ball in his hands. He excelled as a receiver, as a running back and as a returner for Coach (Charlie) Ragle at Chaparral High School. I imagine we’ll use him in a similar fashion here.”

Neal’s commitment finalizes the 2012 recruiting class, a roller-coaster ride if there ever was one. After missing out on top prospects like Greenberry, Ronald Darby, Arik Armstead, Nelson Agholor, and Brian Poole, landing Neal is a much-needed victory for the coaching staff that worked tirelessly. Neal will enroll this summer and joins wide receivers Chris Brown and Justin Ferguson in the recruiting class.