Don Callahan/Inside Carolina

Junior Day Invite Shows Four-Star Alim McNeill Where He Stands with UNC

UNC is one of the 26 schools to have offered the Alim McNeill.

RALEIGH, N.C. --- Alim McNeill, one of the state's hottest recruits, has accepted North Carolina's invitation to Saturday's elite junior day. The event will be held in conjunction with the basketball game against Duke.

"I think it's pretty cool that they invited me to that," McNeill said. "It shows where I stand with them -- pretty high, I guess you could say."

McNeill, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound jumbo athlete from Sanderson High, is a veteran of watching UNC-Duke basketball games in person. He attended the early February bout between the two schools at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Shockingly, McNeill grew up a Kansas basketball fan, because of Andrew Wiggins. However, his father is a Tar Heel basketball fan.

Beyond this weekend, McNeill is scheduled to visit South Carolina on April Fool's Day and may possibly return to Virginia Tech on April 13. He's in the process of planning summer trips to Florida State, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Penn State, and Tennessee.

McNeill has already visited Clemson, Duke, UNC, NC State, and Virginia Tech.

"I'm still wide open to everyone," McNeill said. "I've liked everywhere I've been. It's going to be a hard decision. I'll probably start narrowing down schools after I take a couple visits this summer."

By the end of the summer, McNeill will trim his list to about a dozen. He says Florida State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, and all the in-state programs have staying power.

"Those [aforementioned] schools hit me up a lot," McNeill said. "We talk a lot. I talk to all of their coaches."

Relatively speaking, UNC was one of the later schools to offer McNeill.

"The biggest thing was there was turnover [on their staff] and they wanted to make sure that the staff was making the right decision, which I understand and respect," Sanderson head coach Ben Kolstad said. "But, they were late in the mix. Actually,most of the North Carolina schools were late in the whole mix -- it was all the local schools."

UNC was part of a Feb. 21 avalanche of scholarship offers for McNeill. It was one of six schools to offer him that day.

"It was pretty crazy, because I only knew two coaches were calling that day," McNeill said. "And then all the sudden stuff started blowing up and then coaches started calling my coach and texting me. It was teams I've talked to previously, but I wasn't expecting them to call or offer."

UNC was one of the two schools McNeill expected to call that day. Terry Joseph, who is now recruiting Raleigh for the Heels, had scheduled a 1:30 p.m. call with Kolstad. After McNeill conversed with Joseph, Joseph passed the phone to defensive line coach Deke Adams.

"They offered me the scholarship and then just gave me a rundown of UNC, because the football part is kind of obvious," McNeill said. "They were just giving me the full rundown of how it is there [and] how they do things.

"[The offer] was huge with them being in-state and UNC was kind of one that was long awaited; I kind of wanted that one a while ago. But, it's here now and it's a huge opportunity for me."

The Feb. 21 barrage epitomized McNeill's recruitment in general. He exited his junior football season with four scholarship offers (Boston College, East Carolina, Tulane, and Virginia Tech). Roughly two months later, his offer count had exploded to 26.

"He had a good season," Kolstad said. "The end of the year he really came on. And then Virginia Tech offered and he got a bunch of offers from there. It's nationally now -- the Big Ten is coming in, the SEC is looking at him a lot."

Kolstad blames the meteoric rise on schools finally recognizing McNeill's versatility.

"He could play anywhere," Kolstad said. "He's big, he's strong, he's athletic. He's 270 [pounds] right now, but he probably looks 240 because of his frame; he could probably put another 40 pounds on and carry it very easily. There's so much flexibility with him and he has a motor."

As new offers ostensibly arrive daily (his newest, Arizona State, arrived on Monday), McNeill is trying to remain humble.

"I don't want to get a big head," McNeill said. "I'm just enjoying it right now. It's been crazy at times; like some nights I have five or six coaches calling me and giving me the round down."

McNeill first visited UNC last June for a camp. He returned for the 2016 season opener against James Madison.

"[The UNC game] was great," McNeill said. "It was the first game of the year. I liked everything about it -- the fans are always great, the football is great. It was perfect. I like UNC a lot."

In late January, McNeill was back in Chapel Hill for the Tar Heels' first junior day. Three days prior, Adams and Joseph, the two coaches most involved in UNC's recruitment of McNeill, were officially added to the staff.

"You could barely tell that there was a change [on the staff]," McNeill said. "The only way I really knew was because they just told me, but everything was very smooth. They didn't know much about UNC, so I just talked football with them. First, they just started talking about my film. They told me they liked me as an athlete. They know I can play D-line and linebacker."

In subsquent conversations, Joseph has discussed potential position possibilities further with McNeill.

"He told me that they don't really know if they're going to bulk me up for D-line and put me down all the way," McNeill said. "Really, they see me playing both, but more D-end than linebacker. I think I'll play more D-line than linebacker in college."

Kolstad isn't even sure what McNeill's best positional fit is.

"He's a young junior, age wise," Kolstad said. "You can see he's still growing, he's still going to get taller. He plays linebacker very well; he has the instincts of a linebacker. He moves fairly well. A lot is going to depend on the defensive scheme. But, his ability to rush the passer is unmatched. He's going to be a very athletic defensive lineman if that's where he ends of playing."

Fortunately -- or maybe unfortunately -- McNeill doesn't have a position preference.

For Sanderson, McNeill plays linebacker and running back. He finished the 2016 season with 84 tackles, including 18 for a loss and six sacks.

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