Giving It the Old College Try
Former Lufkin High School starting quarterback Reggie McNeal talks about motivation, recruiting and playing ball at Texas A&M.
TWO THINGS LOOM LARGER THAN life on the horizon as you roll into College Station. One is an enormous water tower blazoned with “Welcome to Aggie Land.” The other is Kyle Field—the new home of incoming-freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal. At six foot two, the broad-shouldered McNeal is somewhat larger than life in his own right. McNeal, who is regarded as the crown jewel of his recruiting class, is being touted as the saving grace of the Texas A&M football program and has a shot at the starting position—almost unheard of for a freshman. With his powerful arm and nimble feet, McNeal is expected to pass and scramble his way to a national championship before he ends his college career. Yet, this young hopeful only recently wound up his three-year reign as Lufkin High School’s starting quarterback, ending the year as the state’s top ranked recruit with 2,385 total yards and 24 touchdowns. The icing on the cake: a 5A Division 1 State Championship win. With high school in McNeal’s past and the 2002 football season not yet under way, Aggies and Texas football fans alike are left to wonder whether the eighteen-year-old athlete has what it takes to be a star college player.
texasmonthly.com: How was your senior year? I’m from Lufkin, and I know how big football is there. Lufkin hadn’t been to state in something like 58 years, and then you won it. What was that experience like for you?
Reggie McNeal: That had to be one of the best feelings I’d ever felt, especially when we won that last game. We always said we were good enough to win, and then we finally did. It didn’t really hit us until the next day that we had actually just won state. All the fans went crazy.
texasmonthly.com: There’s a lot of hometown support in Lufkin. Was that motivational, or was most of your motivation internal?
RM: My motivation was that it was my last year and I wanted to go out with a bang. I wanted to give it all I had and try to come up nothing short of a state champion. And we got what we were working for. Ju [Julian Parks] and I were both freshmen on varsity, and we always told each other that before we left Lufkin, we were gonna get ourselves a ring.
texasmonthly.com: Do you have it on?
RM: No. I don’t even wear it anymore. I gave it to my mom because I’m coming up to College Station to get myself four more.
texasmonthly.com: I bet your mom appreciates the ring. Is your family supportive? Do they push you to succeed?
RM: They’ve definitely supported me. My mom and my dad have not missed a game since I was like six, playing T-ball. They’ve never missed my games. They’ll always be there for me.
texasmonthly.com: Is that support part of the reason you chose a school close to home?
RM: Yeah. My mom didn’t want to see me leave. I first told her I was gonna go to Miami or Florida State.
texasmonthly.com: So, you were considering schools in Florida for a while?
RM: Yeah, for a long time.
texasmonthly.com: Well, you were pretty heavily recruited all over the states, not just in Florida. Why did you choose A&M?
RM: Basically, because I wanted to stay at quarterback. They were going to give me a chance to compete for a starting position my freshman year. Plus, it’s close to home, only about an hour and a half to two hours from Lufkin. It’s also a pretty good environment; all the players get along.
texasmonthly.com: What was the recruitment process like?
RM: It got pretty drastic at times. When I committed to A&M in July, I still had ten to fifteen schools calling and wanting to come see me. I didn’t pay them any mind; I didn’t really talk to them much.
texasmonthly.com: Did you consider Texas at all?
RM: Nah. I didn’t like the way they treated Major Applewhite. Applewhite was one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen play, and they just cut him off. It was clear that Applewhite was way better than Chris Simms. He’s smarter. He knew the game better. I didn’t like the way they handled that situation. I used to like Texas when I was little, but not anymore.
texasmonthly.com: How do you feel about Aggie traditions? Were you raised with those traditions?
RM: It’s going to be brand new for me. I had a friend that used to like the Aggies a lot, but I didn’t really start watching them until I committed. That’s when I started watching them all the time. Before, if they were on TV playing somebody good, I’d watch them, but other than that, I never did get down with the Aggies.
texasmonthly.com: You seemed to enjoy playing football in high school. Do you still enjoy the game or is it mostly work at this point?
RM: Right now, it’s like work. But during the season, it’s fun. Summertime, when we’re not playing, it’s like work, but I enjoy it still. This is when you win—right now, getting better.
texasmonthly.com: Do you have a favorite football moment?
RM: My moment was when we played at Kyle Field and I intercepted a ball and ran it for a touchdown. That clenched the game. We were winning 27—20, and then I got that interception and ran it in. There were all these football players on the side talking while I was running and everybody in the crowd was just going crazy. That’s probably my favorite.
texasmonthly.com: Perhaps a sign of things to come?