After playing in the 2012 National Championship Game for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, DaVonte' Neal decided to transfer to Arizona for a couple reasons, the main one being that he was going to be a dad. The NCAA denied his appeal to play last season though, which forced him to sit out and play on the scout team.
But that season at Notre Dame has shaped Neal into a guy that has been on the big stage before, something that just about everyone on the Arizona roster can't really say about themselves. And that experience has made this newcomer one of the leaders of this team, and probably the most outspoken.
"That's how I am naturally," Neal said. "I like to talk to the guys, I like to get my team hyped up. Everybody plays best when everyone gets along, so I think it just comes naturally to me."
When playing in South Bend, DaVonte' credits a couple of guys that you may have heard of for showing him how to be a leader on a college football team.
"You get to see the different atmosphere, to see different football on their side, and just how those guys carry themselves on and off the field. I got to be around Manti Te'o, which is a great leader, and some of the other seniors like Robby Toma, who was my mentor because he was playing the same spot, and also Theo Riddick. So those guys, I learned a lot from those guys and just being able to take what I learned and implementing it here."
Toma was listed at 5-9, 185 pounds that 2012 season. Neal is listed at 5-10, 173 pounds. Toma caught 24 balls for the Irish, and also had four carries.
But there's one thing that Neal is definitely trying to replicate from that 2012 season, and that's when Arizona will play its final game in 2014.
"(Playing for a national championship) was a good feeling, knowing that you're at the top, but we didn't win, so it wasn't as great. It would have been a lot better if we won, but you know, this team has a chance to go to a National Championship I think if we work hard enough. And we'll see what happens at the end of the season."
"Everybody in that room knows they're here for a reason, and everybody is going to come out here and work like they're here for a reason. We all know there's a bigger goal. We're trying to win 12 games this year. We're trying to win all of them."
To get to that high level of play, a lot of the offense is looking like it will run through Neal, as he's being used split out wide, in the slot, taking hand offs for sweep plays, returning kicks and punts, and even being the holder on the field goal unit. A jack of all trades no doubt, but it doesn't mean he's comfortable with all those things yet.
"(Field goal holding) is new to me," explained Neal. "It's the first time I've done it, and it takes some time and takes some work but I think we're going to keep working at it and see what happens. Getting the spot for the kickers (is most challenging) and making sure that's where they want it at."
The area that I think Neal will be used the most? Sweep plays. His freakish speed and ability to avoid tacklers will probably be how this team gets most of its rushing yards in 2014.
"Learning sweep plays has been the primary focus, because we implement that a lot in our offense," Neal said. "Our offense is a fast-paced offense, so to catch the defense off-guard like that, it's big. It adds a whole new dynamic. You've got an offense that's just go fast, but with two people (Neal and Tyrell Johnson) on the inside. A lot of offenses don't have that."
Neal also says that the chemistry between this new group of receivers and the quarterbacks is constantly improving, and at a much higher level than last year.
"We're all working to get better," he continued. "We all know that come Friday night, we all want to put on the best show that we can. The quarterbacks understand what they have to do, and they're all stepping up to the plate. Our receivers, we can do the same thing that we did last year, but we're pushing each other making each other better. There's a lot of confidence (among the receivers), and that's just the way we carry ourselves."
We all know DaVonte's not lacking of any confidence, and that's a good thing considering just how important he'll be for this team to have success in all phases of the game.
"Wherever (Coach Rodriguez) puts me, I just gotta go out there and do my job to the best of my abilities."