Keanu Neal’s talent earned him two more honors last week — a new nickname and a trip to Oregon.
The Florida safety commit was evaluated Wednesday by UF running backs coach Brian White, who had a unique description of Neal’s skill-set after watching him practice.
“I called him and the first thing he said was ‘you’re a freakazoid,’ ” Neal recalled. “He said my ability to move is amazing because of my size. I’m a big, physical guy and I can play in the box, but I’m still pretty quick. So I like that name and I think it should stick with me.”
The compliments kept coming for the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder during a conversion with head coach Will Mushamp later that night.
“He said that coach White called him while he was at my practice,” Neal said, “and had nothing but good things to say about me. That really lightened my day and made me happy to hear that. Coach Muschamp can’t wait for me to get there and he told me I was going to get some playing time as a freshman.”
The four-star then received an invitation Thursday to The Opening, Nike’s annual invite-only camp in Beaverton, Ore. It’s no surprise that Neal, who said in March he performs well under pressure, is anxious to go against the nation’s top receivers and safeties.
“It was kind of shocking to get that call and invite, I didn’t really expect it,” Neal said. “But now that I know, I’m really excited because there’s going to be a lot of elite players up there. I’m going to compete with them and prove that I belong with the best of the best. I’ll try to show some of the safeties ranked higher than me that I can match up with them. And I’ll also pick out some receivers that I want to face from the ESPN150 and the Rivals250.”
Neal is the event’s fourth Gator invitee, joining running back Kelvin Taylor, wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood and linebacker Quinton Powell. The Bushnell South Sumter safety hopes he and his future teammates can increase their chemistry and dominate the competition in Oregon.
“It’s going to be a fun experience,” Neal said. “We’re going to showcase our talent and leave a mark there. It will be great bonding with those guys again. I already have good relationship with Quinton, so I’m looking forward getting to know Ahmad and Kelvin some more.”
Following The Opening and Friday Night Lights in July, Neal will embark on his final season with the Raiders as he tries to capture their first-ever state championship.
“Our goal is to win the state title,” he said. “Our school hasn’t gotten one yet and we’re working for it right now in the spring. It’s definitely going to be a test. I know I’m going to give everything I have this year and work hard for my team.”