Tony McNeal turning heads in summer tournament


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CLEMSON -- The secret is out on Tony McNeal.

McNeal, the Chester High School quarterback and Clemson commitment, had been on the watch list of several major programs before he committed to the Tigers in January, and even though he is rated as the 12th-best prospect in the state, McNeal has floated under the radar, despite being the nation’s 25th-best quarterback according to ESPN.

A large part of that is because he tore his ACL last season and is still in recovery mode.

However, he led a 7-on-7 team from the Southeast to a 36-0 win over a Southwest team last Sunday in Orlando, Fla., as part of the ESPN RISE Games, and word is quickly getting out that the Tigers may have a special player on their hands.

In an ironic twist, McNeal wasn't initially on the Champion Gridiron Kings invite list, and he was invited to the event only after Phillip Ely, a quarterback out of Tampa, Fla., pulled out, and McNeal practiced with his new teammates for the first time on Saturday before playing in four games on Sunday.

Players from across the country were selected to participate in the event and teams were broken into West, Southwest, Midwest and Southeast.

McNeal, who helped lead the Cyclones to the South Carolina Class AAA state title game as a sophomore and to the second round of the playoffs in 2009, said that playing in 7-on-7 tournaments is a summer must, and he enjoyed playing in Orlando because the players from both teams were Division I college prospects.

“It was great being out there with a lot of great players,” McNeal said. “I was a little shaky at first, but then I settled down. I feel good being able to perform 7-on-7’s, and being able to perform mentally as well as physically. My knee is feeling pretty good right now – I’m not 100 percent yet, but give me a few more weeks and I’ll be at 100 percent and ready for the season.”

McNeal has had a busy summer, and actually got to throw to fellow Clemson commitment Charone Peake [out of Dorman] and another receiver the Tigers would love to land, Sammy Watkins out of Fort Myers, Fla., and he said throwing to great receivers makes his job easier.

“I got to throw to both of those guys, and they are the type of receiver that makes it easy on the quarterback,” McNeal said. “You just throw it out there and they will go and get it.”

McNeal is soft-spoken, and unlike a lot of great quarterbacks who are more than willing to tell you how good they think they are, McNeal said he just feels blessed to be considered good enough to play college football.

“I feel blessed to be considered one of the top players in the coaches’ eye and the people in this state,” he said. “It feels good. Special. And I know that not too many people get an opportunity to do something like this, and I just want to take advantage of it and do the best I can.”

McNeal then said that he thinks he and Peake will get along just fine at Clemson, simply because they share the same attitude.

“He is just humble and doesn’t say a lot,” he said. “When he gets into the game, though, he has a different attitude about everything. I like that, because that is my mentality, too. Not very cocky or feel like you have to say a lot – just let it come to you. I am the type of quarterback that I feel like I can run and pass, but I would rather pass first and let my teammates have the glory.”

The rising senior said that being able to commit to the Tigers has made this summer easier, and while he is looking forward to playing his senior season, he can’t wait to don Clemson orange, either.

“It [his January commitment] was good, because of simply being able to just focus on my team and not focus on which college I am going to go to,” he said. “I can get in the film room and study and try to figure out how to get better and stay focused. I am going to pay attention to what’s going on in Clemson, but I am also going to concentrate on Chester and try to make the best of that, too.”


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