All-American McNeal set to speak at FDA
Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 17, 2007
Former University of Alabama All-American Don McNeal will be in Greenville Tuesday and will speak to students at Fort Dale Academy at 2:15 p.m. about the choices they will face in life and how to make good choices.
And McNeal has made plenty of good choices.
McNeal grew up with six sisters and four brothers on a farm in Atmore before becoming a star at The Capstone.
When McNeal was just a child, his mother passed away, leaving his father as the sole provider for the family.
“It was tough,” McNeal said. “It was really tough on my older brothers and sisters because we did not know what we were going to do.”
But his father ensured the family they were going to be fine and he made them a promise that McNeal still adheres to today.
“He told us, ‘Together we stand, united we fall,'” McNeal said.
Because he had to plow the field on the family farm, McNeal did not start playing football until the spring of his sophomore season in high school.
But with his raw ability, Alabama and head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant came calling during his senior season and recruited McNeal to play wide receiver for the Tide.
Once arriving in Tuscaloosa, McNeal quickly learned he liked playing receiver and wanted to be the star making the touchdown catches.
Bryant had other ideas and moved McNeal to defensive back one day at practice, an idea that didn't quite thrill McNeal.
After McNeal dropped a pass, Bryant moved him to defensive back, where McNeal said he purposely got beat so he could be moved back to offense.
After dropping yet another pass, Bryant moved McNeal back to defense.
“I deliberately got beat again and coach Bryant called me over to the tower and told me, ‘If you get beat again, I'm going to send you back to Atmore to plow with that mule,'” McNeal said.
On the following play, McNeal delivered a crushing blow, drawing praise from Bryant and his teammates.
During his career at Alabama, McNeal compiled 96 tackles and six interceptions. McNeal was named as an All-American in 1979 and was selected as a member of the Alabama Team of the Century.
But McNeal is most remembered in Tide lore for his game-saving tackle during the 1979 Sugar Bowl.
In the game known as “The Goal line Stand,” McNeal stopped Penn State's Scott Fritzkee on the one-yard line and the Tide held on strong on the next play to hold on for the 14-7 win.
Greenville resident Colin “Big C” Macguire was the team manager during that season and remembers that play as if it happened yesterday.
“I was standing right there and remember patting him on the helmet after the play,” Macguire said. “That play was so big because if he doesn't make that tackle, we don't win the game.”
After his days in Tuscaloosa, McNeal went on to make waves in the pros as a defensive back for the Miami Dolphins.
As a first-round selection and the 21st overall pick in the 1980 NFL Draft, McNeal went on to play his entire career for the Dolphins and legendary head coach Don Shula.
McNeal went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL before finally calling it quits in 1989.
During his days in Miami, McNeal was named as the team's Player of the Year in 1983 and 1985, also playing in the Super Bowl those years.
But it was in that 1983 Super Bowl that McNeal is, perhaps, most remembered for.
Late in the game, Washington Redskin running back John Riggins took a handoff and plowed past McNeal for the game-winning touchdown.
That play ate at McNeal for many years, but through his faith, he moved passed it and has used his story to motivate others.
“Everybody is going to have bad things happen to you,” McNeal said, “but you cannot let that dominate you.”
McNeal now spends his days talking to youth and preaching the word of Jesus Christ.
His message on Tuesday will be clear.
“I am hoping the kids see this guy who came from a small town and made it and say to themselves, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,'” McNeal said.
Fort Dale Academy Headmaster David Brantley coached McNeal in high school has been close friends with him ever since.
Brantley said it will be nice seeing McNeal again and the students at Fort Dale should really be able to take something away from hearing him speak.
“I know the kind of person he is and it's good for our students to hear what he's been through and to see the success he's had,” Brantley said. “He's a wonderful role model, a wonderful man and he's been a wonderful father and husband.”
“I just want our kids to know it takes sacrifice and hard work to succeed and it also takes doing things right,” he added.
Macguire also said the students at Fort Dale will benefit from hearing McNeal's testimony.
“He's a guy who was raised by his daddy and his daddy was able to instill values in him that made him a success on and off the field,” Macguire said. “He's one person that shows if you want to do something bad enough, you can do it.”
And it's through those family values that McNeal continues to inspire people today.
“I want the kids to see that [I] was poor financially but [I] was rich in so many ways,” McNeal said.
Following his stop at Fort Dale, McNeal will sign copies of his book “Home Team Advantage” at Greenville Motor Company located off Interstate Drive from 3:15-5:15 p.m.