University of Wisconsin defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks could not have been particularly surprised to here Neal's voice. After all, the class of 2007 safety prospect at Arlington Seguin had targeted today to affirm his verbal commitment to the Badgers.
"I told him actually probably like last week that I was going to come to Wisconsin," Neal said in a telephone interview. "But he said he was going to keep it between me and him for a little bit. Because I told him I was going to tell the big man the last day of school, officially. He's excited."
The "big man" Neal referred to is UW head coach Bret Bielema.
"I called Coach Cooks and I told him," Neal said. "I actually told him ahead of time that Wisconsin is where I want to be, but for my verbal commitment I was going to give it the last day of school. So I called him and he gave me the head coach's number. I called Coach B up. He's in Florida right now recruiting… Then I told him that I want to be a Badger. He said he was impressed that I came to make this decision so early and he's happy to have me."
Neal is happy to be a future Badger, and he fills a definite need for UW this recruiting year. UW's top three safeties this fall will be seniors; the program is set to have just four scholarship safeties returning in 2007.
At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Neal could play safety or cornerback at Wisconsin, but he most likely projects to free safety.
The Wisconsin coaching staff, "asked me what would I prefer," Neal said. He split time as a starting defensive back and running back as a sophomore, then played free safety throughout last season, tallying 85 tackles and 12 pass breakups. He is moving to strong safety this fall; he played the position during Seguin's spring practices. "With me playing free (safety) last year I got so comfortable. I'm just now getting used to playing strong. I'm a little bit closer to the line. It's a little bit different ball game. But I told (Wisconsin) I would like to play free because it is so natural to me."
"I have a big frame," Neal said. "(I am) agile. I like to support in the run as well as the pass. I'm comfortable playing safety. I could play any secondary position if needed. I'm an all-around player…
"I'm at strong safety right now. Last year I was at free but this year they want me a little bit closer to the line and supporting the run."
Neal will also play running back this fall. He was a kick returner and part-time punt returner last season, and he could be used in the return game in college.
"If I have to play special teams, I'm going to be a specialist," Neal said. "I can play special teams, kick return, whatever. I'm comfortable doing it."
Interestingly enough, he did not know much about the Badgers' program before UW began recruiting him heavily this spring.
"This year is actually the first year Wisconsin has ever been on my radar," Neal said. "I really didn't know much about them until they started recruiting me heavily. I know Ron Dayne went there — he won the Heisman. And I know one of their running backs, I don't know his name, but I know he's No. 2." – Brian Calhoun — "He is a good athlete. He went in the draft at running back. I know they had good players that have come out of Wisconsin… But seeing games? Really, I don't think I've seen any (Badger) games.
"But when they started recruiting me I started getting online, looking at the campus, seeing everything. That's why I really want to get up there either this summer or for sure (this fall), so I can see the ins and the outs."
The scholarship offer Neal received from the Badgers early this month is still the only offer he holds, but Kansas State, Arizona State, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma were also showing interest. Neal said he did not want to go into his senior year waiting for other programs to offer him.
"Wisconsin is a good program and it's a good atmosphere for me to play in," he said. "They are a top 10 school. (They are) in the Big Ten. And I felt like that would be the best opportunity for me to play college football. So I went ahead and (committed) to Wisconsin."
In an interview last week, Neal said that he was considering making summer trips to Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma for camps or unofficial visits. Today, though, when asked whether he was considering taking any visits aside from one to Wisconsin, Neal replied, "Not at all."
Neal hopes to make the trip to Madison this summer to see the campus on an unofficial visit. Regardless, though, he plans to make an official visit to Wisconsin on Oct. 7 for the Badgers' Big Ten home opener versus Northwestern. Seguin has a bye that week.
Neal has a 2.9 grade-point average and he scored a 1020 on his SAT. He is scheduled to take the ACT June 10.