Vols Host Nation's Top Center

Josh McNeil, the nation's No. 1 rated center, arrived Friday in Knoxville where a center is arguably the Vols No. 1 need in the Class of 2005.

It only makes sense that a team managed by a former offensive linemen and line coach is always looking for ways to upgrade the O-line, which is the most essential component of UT's football success. Since there's no position among the front five more significant than a solid anchor, and since McNeil is as solid an anchor as they come, this was a visit of perfect symmetry.

McNeil is that rarest of Division I prospects because most centers are converted offensive guards or tackles. The center's job at the high school level usually goes to the quickest and smallest of the O-linemen. As a consequence, they are more often recruited by smaller football programs.

Standing six-foot-four and weighing 285 pounds, McNeil isn't small by any standards, but he is quick, strong and very athletic. McNeil runs a 5.1 (he's working on five flat), he could dunk a basketball by the time he was 14 years old and he bench presses 370 pounds on an average day. He is also bright (3.8 gpa) and very experienced.

A starter for Collins High School in Collins, Miss., since he began high school in ninth grade, McNeil helped lead the Tigers to a 49-5 record, four playoff appearances and two Class-3A state championships. As a senior he graded out over 90 percent in every game and in his career finale he posted a perfect grade ot 100 with 15 pancake blocks.

Genetics are also a factor in McNeil's favor. His father, David is a former JC offensive tackle and his brother, Chris, is the starting center at Mississippi State where he will be a senior next season.

No surprise the Bulldogs are one of McNeil's favorites as he could follow in his brother's cleat marks in Starkville and perhaps start four seasons after a redshirt year. But McNeil is his own man and he may prefer to make his own mark at LSU or Tennessee. For sure, he plans to play football in the SEC.

McNeil has been to Mississippi State numerous times during his brother's stay there and he had a great visit to LSU last month. That put the Vols playing catch up this weekend and they probably gained ground behind an old O-lineman.

"My visit went real well," McNeil told IT tonight. "I had a great time. Coach Fulmer spent a lot of time with me. I think we got along very well. He's an offensive line guy. He told me he even goes to the offensive line meetings. That's kind of like his group of boys. I like that about him."

An avid believer in strength training and a young man who loves the game of football, McNeil couldn't help but to be impressed by UT's commitment to facilities and the gridiron program.

"They have great facilities and they're building more which will be even better," he said. "They're doing a lot of great things there."

Now the Vols wait with the rest of the contenders to see if this prize prospect will come wrapped in their school colors around Christmas Day.

"Yes sir I'm looking to make my decision around then but if I'm not ready to I'll do it after," he said. "I'm just going to make it will I feel the time is right and I know for sure what I want to do."

No snap decisions for this No. 1 center.

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