A Centerpiece On Any Team's Table

It's not true Josh McNeil's mother had to change his diaper from behind, but he does consider himself a natural born center and there's a multitude of college coaches that agree with him.

At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, with five-flat speed and finely tweaked technique, McNeil is the closest thing you're likely to find a natural born center. Especially considering how unnatural it is to play a position where you have to bend over, balancing yourself on a ball which you snap backwards while firing your frame forward.

"It's hard to find a natural center," McNeil told Allen Wallace of The Insiders. "Top recruits almost never play center in high school. I'm a natural center; (center) will give me more of an opportunity to play sooner (than guard would). I want to go wherever I can play first.

"Most of the SEC schools have centers that graduated this year or will next year. I can also long-snap and the shotgun feels natural."

Any prospect that feels natural looking through his legs at ground zero on the gridiron deserves the chance to assume that role in college, and Tennessee is one of the teams looking for a long-term answer at that hard to fill position. After a successful four-year run by Scott Wells, the Vols are playing fifth-year senior guard Jason Respert there this year. Other than redshirt sophomore Rob Smith, who has played a little center but prefers to remain at guard, Tennessee does not have an experienced option at center in 2005.

That makes McNeil an intriguing option since he projects as an early contributor given his exceptional strength and extensive game experience. A four-year varsity starter at Collins High School in Collins, Miss., McNeil benches 375 pounds, squats 500 and power cleans 285. He recorded 116 pancake blocks as a junior (a phenomenal number for a center) and he hasn't allowed a single sack in his high school career. Another year to add strength and bulk could put him in line for significant playing time as a true freshman.

It's still early in the recruiting game, but McNeil appears to be a lock for the SEC. His brother Chris McNeil projects as the starter at Mississippi State this fall which makes the Bulldogs a strong contender. However, Chris is also a center and Josh, who earned second team all state honors as a junior, might want to avoid that type of competition when there are ample options.

He currently gives Florida a slight edge over a field of contenders that include: Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, MSU, Tennessee and Nebraska. All of those schools have already extended scholarship offers to McNeil who is fully qualified with a 3.5 grade point average and 20 on his ACT. Oklahoma State, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Alabama, Marshall and West Virginia are some of the other schools to come through with offers.

Obviously, signing this stellar center will not be a snap.

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