Instead of spending time in the weight room with the big bodies, McNeal told CUTigers in a recent interview he and other skill players would run routes.
Hindsight is definitely 20-20.
"I didn't lift at all in high school…if I had known what I know today, I would have definitely lifted in high school," he said.
A member of Clemson's "dandy dozen" 2009 recruiting class, McNeal came to Clemson as a slight 169 pound four-star prospect by Scout.com. He wanted to learn as much of the playbook as he could with hopes of early playing time.
That, of course, didn't work out.
"I thought I was going to. That was my goal--to play early. When they told me I was red-shirting--they've been doing this a lot longer than I have. I trusted and understood what their philosophy was," he said.
Handed the red-shirt and instructed to add some size to his 6-2 frame, McNeal had gotten his weight up to 183 before the team was off for exams. Although he dropped five pounds during the break, his strength has improved considerably.
Throughout the season, while the rest of the wide receivers were in meetings, McNeal was lifting with the other red-shirted players. In the first ‘power hour' session, he could only bench 135 pounds three times. During the last one, he benched 135 22 times.
McNeal also doesn't think the added size takes away from his speed.
Throughout the season, while the rest of the wide receivers were in meetings, McNeal was lifting with the other red-shirted players. In the first ‘power hour' session, he could only bench 135 pounds three times. During the last one, he benched 135 22 times. (Roy Philpott)
Since he's spent most of the season on the scout team, McNeal doesn't have much of a working knowledge of the playbook. Now with bowl practice underway, he's among the several taking part in the extra 20 minutes for ‘jayvee' practice. McNeal believes the jayvee practice allows him to get a feel for what spring practice will be like when he's competing for a starting spot.
"Knowing that I'm going to be able to come in and compete, that's a goal I'm striving to accomplish," he said.
Wide receiver coach Jeff Scott marvels at McNeal's athleticism and "natural ability".
"He has the ability to put his foot in the ground, going full speed, plant and change direction," Scott said. "Sometimes guys are not quite that athletic. They have to take a few steps, pitter-pat their feet before they change direction."
Whether that's a credit to his technical approach to the game or his athleticism, it helps that McNeal has learned from the best. He spent time in high school working with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"He's from five blocks down from where I grew up," McNeal said. "He just taught me a lot. I tried to take everything he said seriously, considering the accomplishments that he's had so far."
With the red-shirt year nearly over, Scott would like to see McNeal progress towards being a more polished at his position. He said McNeal is starting to learn the intricacies of being a wide receiver.
"He's a guy that I think is going to be a quick learner. It's important to him," Scott said.
With the graduation of Clemson's leading receiver Jacoby Ford, McNeal will compete for that starting spot that will be vacated. He will compete in the same receiver position that Terrance Ashe has occupied for the majority of the season.
"I look forward to having (McNeal) out there this spring and just seeing what he can do," Scott said.