NFL PROSPECT: DeJuan Neal didn’t receive much recruiting attention as a senior at Southern High. Towson University was the only Football Championship Subdivision school that showed interest and ultimately offered only preferred walk-on status.
Neal chose to attend Division II Shepherd University because it was the lone program that promised any sort of scholarship money.
“DeJuan had a very good career here and I sent out a highlight tape that was pretty impressive,” former Southern head coach Russ Meyers said. “Fortunately, Ernie McCook has been pretty diligent about recruiting our county and he took time to watch the tape.”
McCook, who grew up in Grasonville and attended Queen Anne’s High, was an assistant at Shepherd for 18 seasons under longtime head coach Monte Cater. When Cater retired following the 2017 campaign, McCook was promoted to succeed him as head coach.
“I loved the overall athleticism I saw when I recruited DeJuan and we felt confident he would develop into a really good player,” McCook told The Capital on Monday.
Former Southern High and Shepherd football standout DeJuan Neal.- Original Credit: (Courtesy Photo / HANDOUT)
McCook’s early evaluation was spot-on as Neal became a four-year letterman and three-year starter at Shepherd, earning first team All-Mountain Conference honors as a junior and senior.
The Shady Side resident emerged as a lockdown cornerback this past season while amassing 29 tackles (23 solo), three pass breakups and two interceptions.
“To tell you the truth, not many teams threw to the wide receivers DeJuan was covering,” McCook said.
Neal did enough at Shepherd to catch the attention of NFL scouts with representatives of the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins showing up at the Division II school in Shepherdstown to work him out.
At the Shepherd Pro Day, Neal ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds, the three-cone shuttle in 4.22 seconds and posted a superb 37 ½-inch vertical jump.
“DeJuan possesses all the right measurables and can do everything athletically necessary to play at the pro level,” McCook said. “A lot of the scouts that came to our Pro Day were impressed with DeJuan and felt he really helped his stock.”
Indeed, Neal has been invited to mini camps for both the Seattle Seahawks (Thursday) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (May 9). Those are basically live tryouts and will determine whether the 6-foot, 190-pounder signs with a National Football League franchise.
“I feel confident and can’t wait to show my talents,” Neal told The Capital in a telephone interview on Monday. “I feel as though all my hard work is going to show through during these tryouts.”
If the Buccaneers and Seahawks do not wind up signing Neal, his agent – Sean Stellato – is confident he can get the youngster into an NFL training camp.
“DeJuan is a great person and a great teammate who plays hard and loves to compete,” McCook said. “I think DeJuan can play at the next level provided he gets into the right situation.”
Neal is hoping to become the first Southern High graduate to sign with an NFL team since kicker-punter Dale Castro received a contract from the Dallas Cowboys following an All-American career at the University of Maryland.
“I’m really, really proud of DeJuan for getting this far and it’s truly a testament to how hard this kid has worked over the course of his whole career,” Meyers said. “DeJuan has done nothing but bust his tail for the past eight years. It’s been a steady progression and now here he is with a chance to play in the pros.”
Neal was a two-time first team All-County selection as a defensive back by Capital Gazette Newspapers and rushed for 1,071 yards and 18 touchdowns on only 103 carries while playing tailback as a senior at Southern.