Two players who would look great on the left side of the 2019 Miami Hurricanes offensive line are spending much of their time sweating off excess pounds and getting prepared for college football while competing for IMG Academy in Bradenton.
Left tackle Evan Neal, a 6-8, 360-pound five-star recruit, has deep ties to the Canes while four-star guard Dontae Lucas (6-4, 342) is a former Miami High star. Each has lost 30 pounds in the past few months.
Can the Canes sign one or even both of these slimmer-than-before-yet-still-giant prospects?
We will find out for sure on this cycle’s first national signing day, Dec. 19, as both players are planning to graduate early and enroll in their college of choice in January.
Of the two, Neal seems to be the most likely candidate to sign with Miami.
“Yes, sir,” Neal said when asked if it were true that his mother, Sheila, wants him to attend UM. “Miami is a two-hour ride from my house (in Okeechobee). She would be closer to her baby.
“Everyone in my house is a Miami fan. We’ve got close ties to UM. It would be an easy decision.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Neal will choose Miami just as Lucas’ “commitment” to Florida State doesn’t guarantee he will play for the Seminoles next year.
Here’s a closer look at both players:
▪ Neal transferred from Okeechobee High to IMG after his freshman season, and he called that the best decision he has ever made.
“I come from a small town, and they didn’t have the resources to support me as a football player,” said Neal, who has a 2.6 grade-point average and plans to study business in college.
Neal comes from an incredibly athletic family, including two of his uncles who starred at Miami: running back and former first-round pick Cleveland Gary and defensive tackle and two-time Super Bowl champion Jimmie Jones.
In addition, Neal’s father, Eddie, played outside linebacker at Tulane in the early 1980s.
His uncle, Frankie Neal, played wide receiver for the Florida Gators and the Green Bay Packers. He beat Florida State for an 85-yard touchdown pass in 1985 and was drafted in the third round in ’87, lasting 12 games in the league.
Another uncle, Jimmy Gary Jr., played running back for West Virginia and the Seattle Seahawks and is now an actor on the TV show, “Orange is the New Black.”
Finally, Evan’s cousin, 6-7, 255-pound Chaz Neal, is an incoming freshman at Florida State.
“I guess it’s perfect gene-mixing,” Evan said when asked about his family, which includes his mother, who is 5-foot-11, and his dad, who is 6-2.
Neal, who reached 6-feet in sixth grade, seems to have a lot of Canes-type swagger in a fun-loving way.
Asked about playing football in elementary school, Neal said rival parents tried to ban him from his league because he was a Wildcat quarterback at the time, and, well, no one was strong enough to tackle him.
As a freshman in high school, Neal played basketball – “point guard,” he joked.
“I’ve got a jumper,” Neal said. “The jumper don’t ever leave me.”
His baseball career was discontinued after bats kept flying out of his hands, and all of that has led him to IMG and, perhaps, UM.
“I know Miami is going to be in the mix until the end,” Neal said. “But Alabama, FSU, Georgia — any SEC or ACC team has a decent shot.”
▪ Lucas became a big recruiting target last year, when his blocking helped Miami High reach the state semifinals for the first time since 1992.
And while there will be no Lucas encore with the Stingarees, he could return to the Magic City to play for the Canes.
Perhaps, but the Canes have some serious work to do to convince him.
Lucas, who has a 2.6 GPA and wants to study business in college, committed to FSU this past spring while visiting the Tallahassee school.
“I was looking at their linemen,” Lucas said, “and they are all seniors. I wanted to be the first guard they brought in so I can work hard and start right away.”
In actuality, FSU projects just two senior offensive linemen as starters, one less than Miami.
Lucas said both schools are giving him similar messages.
“Miami told me I can come in and get in the rotation, but it will take time because there are things they need to teach me,” Lucas said. “FSU said the same thing, and that’s why I’m at IMG, so I can learn.”
One other issue for the Hurricanes is that Lucas may have a desire to leave Miami.
“In Miami, a lot of people know me, and there are some haters,” Lucas said. “They are not right-minded people. They would do anything to knock me off.
“I could see myself playing for Miami. But I don’t want to deal with those people or put my family or my career through that. Before the (NFL Draft), the teams bring everything up, and I don’t want to have anything bad next to my name.”
Lucas was asked about the odds of him breaking his vow to attend FSU.
“There is a light chance if another school makes me feel at home,” he said. “I would say, ‘Show me your depth chart.’ That’s the most important thing to me.”