No Place Like Home

Come Saturday, Notre Dame will march into Kenan Memorial Stadium to face the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels in what is appearing to be a statement game for both squads. For the young Irish, hopes are riding high that they can climb into a hostile environment and leave Chapel Hill 5-1.

As if they didn't need enough motivation, cornerback Raeshon McNeil and Kerry Neal will both also be returning home.

Both players hail from North Carolina, as McNeil comes from Davie County High School in Cooleemee, and Neal is a product of the tiny town of Bunn, where he played for Bunn High School. For both players, this contest is one that they have been waiting for, ever since they saw it appear on the future schedule.

"It's incredible," McNeil said. "It's something I've been waiting for, for a long time. We've had this game on the schedule for the last couple of years and I've seen it and been waiting on it, patiently. My family and a lot of people don't get to see me play too often in person; they've only been up one time so far, in the Carolina game my freshman year, and so this would be a great opportunity to have a lot of family there, coaches and everybody there so it's going to be great."

Although McNeil has never been to a Tar Heel football game before, he is hearing from his high school friend, Evan Hall, that even in Chapel Hill the anticipation for Saturday is rising.

"No, I've never been to a game at Carolina," he said. "I haven't really heard too much about how the games are there. I've got friends that go to school there and stuff and they say the games are pretty exciting. I hear that this game is one of the most exciting ones they'll have. I have a friend that goes to school, there. His name is Evan Hall, and he told me that basically all the students get a chance to get tickets, but they actually put these tickets for students on a lottery, so not even all the students are getting tickets."

Speaking of tickets, for McNeil and Neal it has been a frantic rush to please all their relatives and acquaintances with extra seats for Saturday.

"Oh," McNeil sighed. "It started a long time ago. We've been swapping up and borrowing trying to do everything since the summertime, trying to get more tickets. It's been a ride, but it's been good. I'm up to about 20 now."

This number, however, isn't cutting it close.

"As many as I can," McNeil said as to how many he needed. "As many as I can get, I'm sure I can find someone to come."

Among the pair of North Carolina products, there has been a friendly competition brewing to see who can amass the highest number of tickets. So far, No. 56 is taking a promising lead.

"Kerry, I think actually has more tickets than me," McNeil said with a laugh. "I don't know how, I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but I think Kerry has actually more tickets than me, he's maybe up in the higher 20's range … But we've all been searching around and hawking for them, getting as much as we can."

Neal's strategy was simple — in his eyes, the early bird catches the worm when it comes to getting tickets.

"I jumped on them early," he said. "I jumped on them since last year, first come first serve … I got Darius Fleming's, I got a couple of the freshman guys."

Although both players are friends and teammates, there have been some shady negotiations behind the other's back.

"Yeah, Raeshon's been trying to steal my tickets," Neal said. "He's been telling people, ‘I'm going to give you my tickets for this game,' so guys have been pulling out at the last minute and they'll say, ‘oh, I forgot,' so hopefully I'll have my 28 or 30."

For Neal, it is an extremely exciting road atmosphere, however, he and his teammates are still focused on one thing — taking one from the Tar Heel's house.

"We've got to take it as a business trip," he said. "We've got to take care of business. That's what I'm there for. We've got to win the game. I mean, family and friends being there, I'm going to block them out during the game, so after the game I can do a meet and greet, but during the game it's all business."

Returning home will have greater meaning for Neal as it will allow him to play in front of a pair of persons that have always been there for him. At Bunn High School, head coach David Howle was always a great mentor to the sophomore pass rusher. Now, Neal can show his coach how he has developed in person.

"I talked to him last night, as a matter of fact," Neal said. "He was telling me he was going to be at the game and wished me good luck."

So is there any added fire under Neal that will spur him on?

"Yeah, I'm at home, in front of my mother," Neal said. "Hopefully my grandmother will be there, my uncles, family friends, a couple of my coaches. I'm going to be amped. I'm going to be ready to play."

With this emotion riding so passionately high come Saturday, Neal isn't afraid of using the enthusiasm to his advantage.

"I use it as momentum," he said. "I just want to go out there, I mean, I'm going to be sky high in front of everybody. I mean, it's homecoming. I'm going to feel like it's homecoming game in high school."

If Neal's grandmother could make it out to Kenan Memorial Stadium, Saturday could be an extremely touching moment for him, due to the fact that she has never seen him play a collegiate game in person. At the current moment, health concerns may force her to watch the contest from her home. Whether she will be at the game in person remains to be seen. Neal, however, knows that from wherever she is watching, she will be guiding him on the field.

"I just want to go out there on the field and make everyone back in Bunn proud," he said. Top Stories