Damani Neal

One on one with Duke 3-Star S Commit Damani Neal

One of the top commitments in the class of 2016 - and one of the most valuable - is three star safety Damani Neal.  Not only is Neal a highly rated prospect, he’s also been very active in providing information to fellow recruits as the recruiting class has come together.  We spoke with Neal about that, his recruiting process as a whole, and more recently.


First time for me getting to talk with so I’ll start with this, how does it feel to be a committed Duke University student-athlete?

It feels great, the process it was actually kinda stressful up until Duke offered. Once I got the offer from them, the first thing I thought about was why wouldn’t I commit here, it’s the perfect fit with football on the rise and academics that basically help you be set for life. I remember when the coaching staff reached out to me, Coach DJ, Coach Cut, Coach Roper and Coach Guerrieri, they are all really great guys and I’m excited to spend the next 4 years with them.

How long had you followed Duke prior to them offering you? 

My freshman year Duke was actually the very first prospect camp that I went to. So Coach Guerrieri and I really started building a good relationship early on and my sophomore year when I got my first offer they started showing some more interest and then I went to the NCCU game this past season and spent a lot of time with Coach Guerrieri at Junior Day and things like that. When they finally offered it felt really good because it had been a long time coming and I was just so excited to make the decision to become a part of the Duke Family. 

For Duke fans who may not have gotten to know you yet, how would you describe yourself?

On the field I’m a real physical guy, but I’m also a very smart player. My 40 time doesn’t really indicate how fast I play on the field, but on the field if you have the ball, I’m going to be running a 4.3 to come get you and the ball. Off the field, my favorite class has to be english, but in college I’m really interested in either criminal justice or the psychology fields. My mother has her criminal justice degree from VCU, so I want to follow her in footsteps. She talks about that all the time and it got me really interested as well. Coach Guerrieri asked me about my favorite majors and when I told him about criminal justice and psychology, he told me that at Duke you have these special opportunities to pull together professors and whatnot if you are really interested in a particular subject area, so that’s something I’m looking forward to there is the chance to really challenge myself academically. 

Have you always played safety?

Actually my freshman year I played outside linebacker and then my sophomore year I transitioned to safety and that’s where I’ve played since then.

Did Duke recruit you to play safety once you get there?

Yes sir they did, free safety. They’ve talked alot about coaching me at all three safety positions because in high school I play free safety about 12 yards back, but because I’ve played linebacker-I’m able to come down into the box and make plays. They see me as being a a real threat at all three positions. Coach Guerrieri kinda sees me as a little bit similar to Deondre Singleton in the way he makes plays back there. I’m excited to see where I end up because it feels great to be compared to a guy like Deondre. I had a chance to talk with him when I was down there for my last visit and we’re really close already, he’s a great player and an even better person. 

On the current team I also know a couple of the freshman who just got there with Myles Hudzick and Mark Birmingham. When i was down there last I met Devon Edwards and Dylan Singleton, so I’m building relationships with those guys already. I actually have stayed with Alonzo (Saxton) when i visited before, he’s a great guy as well. All the guys are really cool, but those are some of the players that I’ve been able to talk to.

What’s it like for you with some of those players you just mentioned that you are following in their shoes in a sense once you come in?

Man it’s so cool but it’s also kinda crazy too because I remember like it was yesterday that I was playing linebacker as a freshman at 5’9, 165 pounds and now I’m about to go play Division 1 college football at a prestigious university. I’ve been paying attention and taking notes on what these guys have been doing—and I’m ready for the challenge.

What are your thoughts on how Duke runs their defense and how they both utilize and develop their secondary?

I love it, that’s something that Coach Guerrieri and I talk about every time I go down there to visit is their schemes and he teaches me about them. Even with Coach DJ, even though I don’t play corner, he coaches at a fast tempo and that’s something I like. Coach Guerrieri is a young guy with a lot of energy, and I’m looking forward to playing for him.

What would you say are their expectations for you as a player coming in as a freshman?

Coach Guerrieri and I talk about that often, he says that I have the potential to come in and play early but that’s up to me and how hard I work when I get there. I think when I get there my work ethic will have to speak for itself and that will earn me playing time wherever they see me fit.

What are your thoughts on the young secondary group that they are building with your class and the class that just got there?

Those are some great guys and they know a lot about football. I’ve watched all their highlight tapes and even if I don’t get an opportunity to play early as a freshman, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn from those guys. I’m excited about it either way.

What do you remember about those early conversations with Duke and how you felt when they offered?

First conversations they were the typical freshman and college recruiting coaches conversations in terms of they couldn’t talk with me but we like you and then once I got the offer from Rutgers, things started going up and they saw that I was worthy of offers and recognition by their program. Coach Guerrieri’s and I’s relationship has just continued to get stronger since then and we talk on a regular basis. Coach DJ and I talk at least every week, so now it’s just making sure that the relationship gets built even stronger, it’s been great.

Has there been anything that’s surprised you in that relationship building process with Duke about the program or school?

Oh yeah something I didn’t know well was Coach DJ, he’s a really big family man. When you sit down and talk with him, it’s about not always about football, a lot of the conversations are focused on other things outside of football. One of the reasons I committed there was when I went on my Junior Day visit, he sat my father and I down in his office and he told us, “making a decision to come to Duke isn’t just about you, it’s also about your unwed wife and your unfathered children, so four years from now when I have a wife and kids, you’ll be able to provide them with a good life and a roof over their heads and not having to worry about how you will do that,” that really stood out to me that Duke will prepare you for life for immediately after football, but also way down the road after football. Coach DJ, how much he values family really stuck out to me.

What do you remember about your family discussions when you were transitioning from “Duke is a school I’m interested in” to “Duke is the school for me”.

Yeah honestly for me to tell my parents that I was ready to go there, it was probably one of the easiest conversations I’ve ever had with my parents. My mom is a huge Duke Basketball fan and my dad loves Coach Cut and Coach Guerrieri. When I sat down and told them I was ready to commit to Duke, they were all for it and they were even more excited than I was, so it was good.

Let’s talk about making the commitment to Duke, how did that play out?

Yeah I called them April 2nd and I was surrounded by a whole bunch of friends and family. I called Coach Cut, he was actually eating italian food when I called him, so the conversation actually started out with him talking about his favorite things on the menu and then I let him know everything that I loved about their program and the university and I told him that I was ready to come play for his program. It was a great day, they were excited for sure. Coach DJ and Coach Guerrieri were excited, but I think Coach Cut, he was ecstatic, I think that’s the proper word. 

Since then you have obviously played a big role in recruiting other guys to Duke, how have you approached that?

Well you know it’s easy for me, I’m a really big people person, I like talking with people and when I go talk with these recruits about coming and joining our family, it’s not, I try not to make it just about football or just about committing to Duke, I ask them about who they are as people because I want to get to know them like they are my brothers, like they are my best friend. I think that’s how I approach those conversations. 

Final Question—is there anything you’d like Duke fans to take away from this intro - either individually or on behalf of your recruiting class?

2017 will be here before you know it guys and we’ve already got a lot of commits in this class and we’re really excited to get down to Durham and make an impact. We talk often about ACC Championships in this 2017 class and that’s what we’re going to hold ourselves to, that higher set of standards.

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