Safety Keanu Neal is set to return to the field after being held out the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury. It happened during a scrimmage on August 21, and Neal said his injury healed “faster than expected.”
He returned to practice on Monday and feels ready for Saturday.
“It’s amazing. I definitely missed it,” Neal said. “I’m glad to be out there with my boys, working. It was killing me (to be out). It was killing me inside. Injuries happen, you have to accept it, but it was definitely killing me.”
Neal’s conversation with the other defensive backs this week has been about containing his energy. After sitting on the sideline in street clothes and watching the Gators face New Mexico State and East Carolina, the junior now has to find a way to play disciplined in his first time back.
Even though his recovery time surprised some around the program, it felt like an eternity for Neal.
“I’ve got so much built up in me,” he said. “I was telling (Brian) Poole this earlier, like I can’t wait until Saturday. I’ve got so much anger and just energy built up in me. I’m just ready to go. I just can’t wait.”
With Neal out, the Florida secondary has struggled at times. They blew multiple coverages in the season opener and then allowed 346 passing yards to East Carolina over the weekend. Neal actually called a players-only meeting with the secondary on Sunday to watch film and figure out what was happening.
What they noticed was hesitation. The members of the secondary weren’t playing at full speed and trusting their instincts. Instead, they were playing slow.
Neal knows his return will help the Gators in the secondary, but improvement around him will help the group get back to where it was last season.
“We have a lot of great guys,” Neal said. “We have a lot of talented guys who came in and did their thing, contributed greatly. Anybody can play that position.”
Neal has practiced fully this week and All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was back at practice on Tuesday after a leg injury in practice last week forced him out of Saturday’s game with East Carolina. If Hargreaves returns, the Gators will have their complete secondary for the first time this season.
The secondary hasn’t backed down from wanting the ‘DBU’ label in the offseason, and the defense took it even further setting their expectations to be the best defense in the country. They know it hasn’t looked like it through the first two games, but the hope is to start proving it on Saturday in Lexington.
“We want that,” Neal said. “We want to be the best in the country and best defense in the nation. That’s what we preach and what we want to do, and we got to do it.”