Kerry Neal and a few of his high school coaches made the drive up for the Blue-Gold weekend, April 20-22, to check out the conclusion of spring camp.
"I loved the fan base, when I got out of the van on Friday, they were everywhere," Neal said. "I was walking on campus and everyone was asking for my autograph, people wanted to take their picture with me.
"I loved it, that's my home."
Neal also loves the position the Irish coaching staff envisions him playing. After signing a couple autographs and cheesing for a few photos, Neal sat down with all the defensive coaches that Friday to discuss the future. Meeting new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown for the first time in person, the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Neal was told that he will begin his career as a weakside linebacker.
"I'll be coming off the edge using my ability to rush the passer," said Neal, who recorded 132 tackles, 30 coming for loss including 17 sacks. He also forced 12 fumbles and intercepted four passes as an outside linebacker/defensive end for Bunn High.
"I like coach Brown's philosophy. He is a really good guy, and I can relate to him because he played and he knows what to expect. He says if you're going to make a mistake, make it at 100 percent. He wants you running to the ball hard."
Neal played in a similar defense during his prep career, and is comfortable with the scheme, however he realizes there are plenty of differences going from high school ball to college ball.
That's not stopping him from thinking about starting in the opener against Georgia Tech in the fall.
"I've been working hard and studying film," Neal said. I'm real hungry and coming to play."
Neal has been watching film of himself this past season, and critiquing everything. He is also a big user of Google.com, uploading video of San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, and Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, trying to take anything he can and add it to his game. Neal also watches recorded Notre Dame games and analyzes the outside linebackers and defensive ends.
When Neal's not watching film, he is reading his new playbook, or working out to be physically ready for the grind of the next level.
"I was like, what am I looking at," Neal said of his new playbook. "I had never seen it. One of my coaches looked at it and he said keep studying it and it will come. Coach Brown said just keep going over it and it will come. (Irish defensive line) coach (Jappy) Oliver said that too."
The workout program came much easier to Neal because he had already put in a lot of time with a personal trainer, and was accustomed to most of the lifts. Neal's weight dropped five pounds to 225 following the season, but he has since added 12 pounds of muscle.
"I've put on a lot of muscle mass," Neal said. "All the coaches have noticed how much bigger I've got. Then I've been working out with a speed coach, getting my 40 time down. It's in like the 4.5 range."
Neal is taking to the advice that sophomore linebacker Toryan Smith gave him at the spring game, just come in, in the best shape you can. Nothing can prepare you for the rest.
Neal also got a chance to catch up with most of the guys in his incoming freshman class.
"They are real good guys," Neal said. "We just talked about what we expect this year. We are all thinking National Championship already. We have four years together and I think it's a special group."
So do the Irish fans lining up for autographs.