McNeal rehabbing after surgery, ready to get started in 7-on-7 passing drills


by - Senior Writer -
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Chester quarterback Tony McNeal sprinted out to his left during a game against Fairfield Central last October 2nd, and looked for a receiver downfield, but when he went to plant to throw, he felt a sharp pain in his right knee.

McNeal didn’t think the injury was too serious at the time, and even tried to go back into the game, but coaches held him out and it was later that he learned he had torn his ACL and would require surgery.

“The coach told me to stay out, because the backup quarterback was doing such a good job,” McNeal said. “I really wanted to go back in. But I just sprinted out to the left and planted wrong. It was a non-contact injury, and that was frustrating.”

McNeal was in the midst of having a superb season when the injury occurred, leading the Cyclones to a 5-0 start, and had had one of the best games of his career a few weeks earlier when he completed 19-of-21 passes for 369 yards and five touchdowns in a 54-19 victory over York.

McNeal took the next four weeks following the injury off, and came back on October 30th in a 42-7 win over Lower Richland, playing with a bulky brace on his knee. He kept the brace and continued to play, leading the Cyclones into the state playoffs, where their season ended in a heartbreaking 27-24 loss to Daniel, capping a 10-2 season.

McNeal said he played with the pain, and if he had to do it all over again, he would do so in a heartbeat.

“It was very hard to watch my teammates play without me,” he said of his time off. “We had worked so hard throughout the summer as a team, we had chemistry and we were comfortable with each other. When I went down, I felt like I let my team down. I came back and did what I could, but we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”

McNeal’s stats for the eight games he played were impressive – he hit on 128-of-206 passes, a 62.4-percent clip, for 1,732 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. As a sophomore, he connected on 244-of-426 passes for 3,533 yards and 37 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also rushed for 84 yards and a pair of scores leading his team to the state title game.

As a result, it was no surprise that McNeal attracted interest from Clemson, Miami, Wisconsin, NC State, Maryland, Kentucky and Mississippi State, but most schools wanted to wait until after McNeal’s knee surgery, and to see how the resulting rehab progressed, before making an offer.

McNeal said that whoever offered first might be the school to get his services, and the Tigers offered him on a Dec. 19th recruiting visit. McNeal rewarded their faith by committing in early January, and is now focusing on getting his knee ready for the season.

He had surgery on January 11th, said he started running last week, and expects to take part in his team’s 7-on-7 passing camps and a couple of combines as he prepares for his senior season. The MVP of the VTO Sports Elite 100 Camp & Combine that was held last April said he is ready to get back on the field.

“It is all coming along real well,” McNeal said of the rehab. “I will be at full strength in May. I have been working hard. I am ready for this year to start, and I am working hard so I can get back out there and be with my teammates.”

McNeal said that Clemson wasn’t the natural choice for him – he grew up loving the Miami Hurricanes, and most members of his family were South Carolina fans, but all of that changed as of January.

“Mostly everybody in my family liked South Carolina, but from now on, everybody will be Clemson fans,” McNeal said with a chuckle. “I went there, and I really liked the coaching staff, especially Coach Dabo, and Jeff Scott, and Coach Napier. They are just in the beginning stages of really building that program, and they are like one big family. I also like the academics at Clemson.”

McNeal said that with the early commitment, he knows competing schools will still come after him, and while he hasn’t completely ruled out taking other visits, he still feels comfortable with his Clemson decision.

“I really haven’t decided whether to take other visits or not,” he said. “I will just take whatever comes and look at the situation, and see if we need to go on a visit or not. But right now, I don’t think we will.”

McNeal said that he wouldn’t want to wish his senior season away, but he is ready to get on the field at Clemson and prove that he belongs.

“I love everything about college football,” he said. “The fans and the atmosphere are great, but I especially love the competition. Every weekend, you know you have to play your best football, or you will most likely not win that week. I also get chills watching the players run down The Hill. That is a good tradition. I am ready to do that.”


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