After transferring from Miami, Shawnbrey McNeal made the most of his one season at SMU. He carried 236 times for 1,188 yards (5.0 ypc) and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 31 passes for 283 yards and two more scores.
While his impressive statistics put him on the radar of NFL teams, his time spent with Coach June Jones prepared him to succeed once in the Big Leagues.
"Coach Jones coached in the league," said McNeal, referring to Jones' time as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons (1994-1996) and Chargers (1998). "He brought that pro style into our practice. He forced the issue of trying to have as few mistakes as possible."
Jones gave McNeal the knowledge he needed to succeed in the NFL. Now, the Chargers are giving him the opportunity.
RB Shawnbrey McNeal
"I felt like it was the best opportunity for me," he told SDBoltReport.com. "San Diego's offense fits my style of play and utilizes what I bring to the game of football. There are a lot of people saying little guys can't really be effective in any offense, then Chris Johnson and a lot of smaller backs showed that people built like us can be just as good."
There was another reason for McNeal's decision to choose San Diego: the support he felt from the team's coaches.
"Norv Turner and [RBs coach] Ollie Wilson both had the same mindset about talking about what I bring to the table," McNeal said. "It wasn't just a about a football player with them. It was more of an individual thing. When you see Coach Turner and Coach Wilson off the field, they ask you, 'How are you doing?' or, 'Is everything OK?' They don't just talk football, football, football."
McNeal appreciated the questions from San Diego's coaches. Now that he is officially a member of the Chargers, he has plenty of questions of his own. With those, he goes to the veterans in San Diego's backfield.
"Darren Sproles helps you a lot on the field. As a whole offense, you can see who's been through a lot and who can accept a lot of adversity, guys like Mike Tolbert. As a group, everyone kind of looks after one another."
McNeal appreciates every tip he gets from the veterans. He hasn't had any family, friends or former teammates go to the NFL before him, so he enters this experience mostly blind.
He has already learned the biggest difference between college and the pros: "The mindset and the attitude about approaching every snap and every scenario."
Another big difference is the level of talent around him. In San Diego, he gets to work with one of the NFL's premier talents in Philip Rivers.
"[Rivers] is very poised," he said. "He has a lot of patience and a lot of enthusiasm to get better with each snap. He doesn't dwell on the last snap, because you can't take that back. You can only get better as the game goes on or as practice goes on. Philip shows you a lot about how to be a professional athlete."
One of the keys to Rivers' success is his constant improvement. It's something McNeal plans to emulate throughout his career.
As a rookie fighting for a roster spot, he knows there is still much work to be done.
"I have to improve on blocking," he said. "I also have to take whatever the situation is, whether it's positive or negative, and keep it positive."
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