"We have a very young offensive line this year," the 6-foot-5, 300 pound three star prospect told TDD. "I've actually moved back over to left tackle this year, and am being counted on to help my younger line mates out. Right now we are starting a freshman, two juniors, and a sophomore, so I'm the only senior lineman out there."
With so many new faces on offense, there were bound to be growing pains for Davie County in the season opener against Page. That was certainly the case as the Pirates won easily, 33-22.
"We started out by giving up too many points early on, and then on offense we were just never clicking. We would have the offensive line on the same page, but the backfield wouldn't be. Then the backfield would be executing, but the offensive line was on a different page. You can't be successful when you don't have 11 people executing as a unit."
Communication was certainly critical when McNeill was going through the recruiting process and fielding interest from Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, East Carolina, Wake Forest, and Virginia. Each program recruiting him early on, but it was a trip to Duke more than two years ago that planted the seed of commitment in his head.
"Duke was one of the first schools to recruit me along with North Carolina. They came to my school early on for visits, and they kept coming back. At one point Coach Collins left word that I could call him whenever to set up a visit. One weekend my mom had a few days off and said 'Remember Coach Collins told you to call him if you ever wanted to come down', so I called him and he set it up."
Collins was actually unable to host McNeill and his family due to a previous engagement that pulled him out of town. Alternative campus tour arrangements were put together before McNeill ended up in the Yoh Center talking to one of the assistants. That's when a bigger impression was made.
"Coach Cutcliffe came into the room and immediately said hello to my mother and I. He then invited us into his office and pulled up some things on the video screens he has. He showed us all about the program and where it was going, and about all the expansion that was going on. It was just a great day for us."
Duke would maintain a low-key, but focused approach with McNeill over the next couple of years, and it was something the three star lineman never forgot.
"They never sent too much mail or were too push, but they did enough. With the coaches I really liked how everything was about family, and you could really see just how close everyone is there. Aside from their approach, with Duke you have everything. It's a small school, which I like and it's close to home too. And, obviously, you can't beat a Duke education."
Still, it took a while for McNeill to finish up comparing the various programs to Duke, and for Duke to win his commitment. Along the way, however, the recruitment process was enjoyable.
"I'd say some of my favorite memories from the process were the campus visits and getting to know various guys in my class. Also, meeting the head coaches was great. My two favorite memories were game day visits. I got to visit for the Miami and Virginia game, and the Duke-UNC game last year. Both were close and exciting games, and you could really feel the energy."
In the end, however, McNeill chose Duke. Since the decision, the conversations with the coaches have naturally evolved.
"It's no longer trying to sell me as much as it is talking about the future and what will be. I talk with my recruiting coach, Coach Collins, my position coach, Coach Latina, and Coach Cutcliffe around once a week. It's just chatting about everything from how I'm doing, to what they want me to work on, and everything else. They know they don't have to worry about keeping me or anything like that. I'm committed."
So what do the coaches want to see from McNeill this season?
"They've said that after I sign they will be sending me a playbook and workout schedule so I can get more adjusted to the program faster. For me, personally, I feel like I can always improve on everything. I can always be a little quicker, a little meaner, and I need to continue to work on staying with my blocks and staying with the linebackers."
McNeill entered the season with improved weight room numbers. He reports a bench press max of 315 pounds, a squat max of 420 pounds, and a forty time of 4.9 seconds. After earning all-conference, all-region, and all-state honors as a junior, McNeill was a preseason all-state selection for the 4A classification (North Carolina's largest).
He is rated as a three star prospect and the nation's No. 48 offensive guard.