This injury was reported by Dawgs' Bite within an interview of rookie lineman Chris Spencer, because even then the initial analysis by State's training staff was at the worst a minor tear. Closer observation confirmed the on-field opinion, and McNeil could be cleared for full-speed in only two weeks.
"The first day it was real sore, you could feel almost a ‘dent' in there," McNeil said Thursday after another team conditioning session. "You could tell where it was torn. But I'm much more relieved that this is all it's going to be." MSU trainers said the strain produced some minor fraying of the muscle and rated it a ‘1.5' on a severity scale going up to 5.
The whole team needed the relief after watching the starting snapper drop to the turf during a short-run drill Tuesday. "I was running our rapid-fires, that's a sprint with short strides," McNeil said. "I guess I was in a slowdown stage and when I did I heard something pop in the back of my leg. And I went straight to the ground. You could definitely hear it, and it hurt pretty bad."
Bad enough that he spent the rest of the session lying down with ice on the right calf. Even then, from that position, McNeil was already talking of being back in two weeks. Wednesday brought welcome confirmation though it has taken time to get the word out to a frantic Bulldog nation that was envisioning the worst. Even some State coaches, participating in the high school coach's association convention in Jackson, heard exaggerated third-hand reports of the injury.
But McNeil's response to the re-hab program is full-blown, in a good way. He could just report to the training room once a day; instead, "I go three times a day, in hour and hour-and-fifteen minute segments at 10:00am, 1:00, and 3:00. I'm getting all the therapy I can get. I'm in pretty good condition as it is, I'm not going to lose that much in the next two weeks or whatever."
McNeil finds it amusing that even teammates were just as worried, constantly stopping by to enquire about his condition…not the least of whom is the guy he will be hiking the ball to, quarterback Omarr Conner. He also appreciates comments made by younger linemen, such as Spencer, calling him their example of how to work and prepare for a season. "It's nice for them to say that. There are a lot of guys who work hard, it's not just me. But it's a good thing, and I guess I am the old guy around here now!
"But when I got here there were guys like Tommy Watson and Michael Fair that I looked up to. It's an ever-revolving thing, I guess. And I look at Jerious Norwood, he's just a warrior out here. Everybody has people they look up to, I guess I'm just privileged that the younger guys respect me. I hope it relates on the field this year."
McNeil could claim another sort of senior's privilege, maybe, and stay in the air-conditioned training room during scheduled workouts. Of course he won't, not unless ordered. Thursday (the session was moved inside the Shira Complex by thunderstorms) McNeil took a place on the floor and did as many of the exercises as the bad ham would allow. Pushups, situps, windmills, leg lifts, crunches, all full-reps at full-speed. Did he even consider staying on the side and just watching?
"Oh, no, I love this stuff! But the main thing is all the younger guys that look up to guys who are going to be starting, and I don't want anybody to look on the sideline and say ‘look at Chris McNeil, he's not going to do anything because he thinks he's a big-shot.' Everything I can do I'm going to try to do, I've been out here every day with the younger guys trying to encourage them. I've just got to get through this injury and go try to win some ball games!"