Former All-American shares life experiences

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Students at Fort Dale Academy got a treat, a bit of encouragement and some helpful advice yesterday as former University of Alabama All-American Don McNeal showed up and spoke before a packed gym about making the right choices in life.

McNeal, who played for two national championships teams at Alabama under legendary coach Paul &#8220Bear” Bryant and in two Super Bowls for the Miami Dolphins under Don Shula, spoke to the students about abstaining from drugs and dedicating their lives to Jesus Christ.

McNeal started the afternoon speech by asking the kids to identify themselves as Auburn or Alabama fans and then he pointed out that Alabama has 12 national titles while Auburn only has two.

After the lighthearted start, McNeal spoke about his playing days for Bryant and Shula and how the two men changed his life.

&#8220These are two people I wanted to be like when I grew up,” McNeal said.

But Bryant and Shula were not the only influences in McNeal's life that he credits his success to.

His third grade teacher, Mrs. Biggs, also taught McNeal many valuable lessons, including a poem that he still remembers to this day.

The poem, which was intended to provide a life lesson, began like this:

&#8220When your work has just begun, don't leave until you're done,” McNeal said as he recalled the poem.

Although Bryant, Shula and Biggs all had a great impact on his life, the one person who McNeal credits the most is the person he loves the most.

&#8220The person who had the most impact on my life, the person I wanted to be like is my dad,” McNeal said.

After his mother died of a brain hemorrhage when he was only 6 years old, McNeal's father became the sole provider of the family of 12.

Although the McNeal's lived out on a farm on the outskirts of Atmore, the lessons he learned from his family are ones he still carries with him today.

The choices his father and his older sisters and brothers made are ones he still tries to emulate today.

McNeal also spoke about the dangers of drugs and how to avoid falling into the trap that drugs create.

One example McNeal shared was about his first cousin, who died of cirrhosis of the liver after drinking for many years.

&#8220He listened to the wrong voices, he made the wrong choices,” McNeal said of his cousin. &#8220You got to make the right choices today.”

One of the right choices McNeal said he made that has made all the difference was the choice to dedicate his life to Jesus.

After losing his mother, McNeal would ask one of his older sisters every year where his mother was.

When he was approximately 11 years old, his sister told him about Jesus and the sacrifice he made for mankind and it was on that day that McNeal made a choice that changed his life forever.

&#8220I didn't understand that, but I believed in my sister, so that night, I gave my life to the Lord,” McNeal said.