In the huddle, McNeill called walk-on defensive end Fred Presley to the center. McNeill told Presley front of the team—or, as he refers to them, his family—that he would be granted a scholarship. Naturally, the announcement was met with plenty of applause and excitement from his teammates.
“Putting Fred on scholarship today has been earned,” said McNeill. “He's a guy that has worked his way and he's going to be a pivotal for us. He will step up. I have no doubt about it. You see the team react to that. When a team reacts like that, that tells you how they feel about that young man.”
“It's a very life-changing situation here,” said Presley shortly after McNeill's announcement. “I'm on scholarship. I can get my school taken care of.”
After everything was wrapped up, McNeill answered the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that has overtaken social media in recent weeks. Strength coach and retired Marine Jeff Connors and a camouflage-clad director of operations Brian Overton joined in as Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and company doused their coaches in ice water.
What made the moment truly special was retired Marine Maj. Randy Hebert, who has been fighting ALS for two decades, watching on. McNeill, before getting coolers of water dumped on him by his players, welcomed Hebert as the newest member of his family of Pirates.
“It's an honor to be part of that,” said Carden. “He's someone who has gone through so much and keeps fighting. It's something we can all learn from. We all have our own little problems and worries and things, you see someone like that that makes you feel like you have nothing wrong.”
“It's a great way to end (camp),” continued ECU's star signal-caller. “It's a great way to understand that we grind through camp, but this man right here has gone through a lot more and a lot worse. We're proud that he's part of our team now.”
ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig's Disease, impacts nearly everyone in some way. It hit the ECU community hard when it took the life of former baseball coach Keith LeClair in 2006. LeClair battled the disease for five years.
“We had a great Pirate here in coach LeClair that exudes what Pirate Nation is about,” said McNeill. “Pride, passion, tradition and facing adversity.”
The impact made by McNeill, Connors and Overton reaches farther than their newest family member, too. They've contributed to what has become a movement to raise both money and awareness for ALS.
“This is spectacular that this has hit off nationwide like this,” said Randy's wife Kim Hebert of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. “(McNeill) is so well known and he's such an encourager. To see that football team love him and us be a part of that was just awesome.”