"I felt there was a chance I could play, and I just worked hard to make that happen," Neal said. "I just tried to do the best I could.
"I knew I had a job. I just went out there and did it. I was just trying to help the team win. I was just trying to bring something to the table for the team."
Neal definitely helped his team playing in 12 games, starting five, recording 20 tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss. He and fellow freshman linebacker Brian Smith seemed to spark the Irish defense when inserted into the game with some spirited play. It's no surprise the two became fast friends.
"Me and Brian have been roommates since summer time," Neal explained of his partner in crime. "We have classes together. We go out on the weekends together….go out to eat. We're pretty tight. Our lockers are right beside each other." "I think he and I play the same way, and that's why we get along so well."
Irish head coach Charlie Weis has spoken a lot recently about playing with a swagger and both Neal and Smith bring that to the table.
"If we go there and make plays the team will feed off it. It's like adrenalin," Neal explained when asked how he'll help the team find the same swagger. "When you go out and make a play somebody else is going to step up and make a play."
The former first-team North Carolina Class 2A all-state pick now has a new position coach, Jon Tenuta, and some new wrinkles in the defense to learn before he'll unleash his swagger on the field next season.
"I love his philosophy, but really it's not that big of a change," Neil explained when speaking of his new coach. "Stuff may be a little big simpler now because I have a year under my belt. Last year there were times where I didn't want to mess up, but now I'm relaxed. It feels good."
The freshman outside linebacker says he's definitely physically prepared after Notre Dame's grueling off-season program.
"It was tough. I didn't know what to expect," Neal said of the workouts. "Guys were telling me that was going to be some of the hardest couple of weeks of my life, and it was. By far it's been the hardest workouts I've been through.
"Getting up at five in the morning. We'd do coaching drills, stations for like an hour. Then we'd run, and right after that we'd go lift. Lifting probably lasted for an hour and fifteen minutes, so we really get after it."
Neal also said he saw the coach he committed to, Charlie Weis, there each and every morning.
"I'd see him in the morning when we'd have to weigh in. He was sitting right there telling everyone good morning with a smile on his face," he said with a laugh.
Now that the conditioning is over, Neal said he was thrilled to get back on the field on Wednesday.
"Being away from football, like today, everyone wanted to be out there," he said. "Finally we're back on the field. Finally you've got a football helmet on. Everyone was really getting after it."
And Neal can't wait for the hitting to start.
"That's when the fun begins," he said smiling.
Listed as first-team on the Irish depth chart at WILL linebacker on Wednesday, Neal says he couldn't be happier with his confident and quick decision to play for Notre Dame.
"It's all what I expected. This is the place I wanted to be," he said. "If I could back and do it again I wouldn't change anything. I think this is the best school for me. It has the best of both worlds academically and football-wise. You've got the coaches here, the best facilities, it doesn't get any better."