The fifth-year receiver wasn’t well known to the Florida fan base until Saturday. His 21-yard touchdown run on a fake field goal put the Gators on the board and started a spurt of 31 unanswered points.
To his teammates, McNeely has been well known for years. His unselfishness and devotion to the team is what they all talk about. If a player is having a bad day, the redshirt senior is the first to encourage them and provide an ear to talk.
That’s why Saturday meant so much to his teammates. For once, McNeely was the one getting noticed by the public. Center Max Garcia stood at the podium on Monday and fought back tears, trying to put in context what that touchdown meant to the rest of the team.
“I was so happy to see McNeely score,” Garcia said, taking multiple times to collect himself and hold back his tears. “I don’t think there’s anyone on this team more deserving to be the hero. He’s just a great dude. He’s a hard worker, man. He’s just motivation for the team and guys like him are why we are going to be able to be successful because he cares about this program. I love him.”
The Florida receiver was given a scholarship at the end of fall camp, but even after that, he continues to work at a Publix close to campus. The team returned from Jacksonville late Saturday night, and when Sunday afternoon rolled around, the hero from the program’s win over Georgia was back at Publix working.
Garcia went to see him on Sunday, just to continue encouraging McNeely. The receiver’s family was there, along with multiple fans asking for autographs.
“I think if we had a whole team full of McNeelys, we’d be a national championship team just because of the way we plays,” Garcia said. “Everything he does on and off the field is championship level.”
Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard has seen the energy McNeely provides. He recalled times when teammates were yelled at multiple times during practice and had a rough day on the field, and McNeely was the first to come over and encourage them to have a better day after it.
Many of the Florida players said after the game Saturday that the touchdown felt like they were the ones scoring on the play.
“I think it was the play that turned (the game) around,” Bullard said. “It gave us momentum. After that play and he went in, we practiced all week. I don’t know how, but it was drew up the exact same way, in the exact same formation, exactly what we wanted to do. He just went out and executed it.”