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Arizona football: One last call from Arizona coach swayed Notre Dame's Neal

2013-04-11T00:00:00Z Arizona football: One last call from Arizona coach swayed Notre Dame's NealDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Davonte' Neal sat in coach Rich Rodriguez's office last Thursday with his mind occasionally drifting to Southern California.

He was - in his mind - doing his dad a favor and covering his bases one last time.

The Notre Dame transfer and former two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year came to Tucson to talk to Rodriguez and tour the UA campus. But, in the back of his mind, he thought he was headed to UCLA and was just giving the Arizona head man one final chance.

Then he fell in love with Tucson.

"Things changed when I went on the visit," Neal told the Star on Wednesday morning. "I developed a great relationship with (Rodriguez) when he recruited me out of high school, and I always take what he has to say under consideration.

"I just fell in love with the school when I was there."

And that's the short story of how Neal became a Wildcat. The former five-star recruit pledged to the UA late Tuesday night and said he will arrive on campus May 1.

Neal will pursue an NCAA hardship waiver with hopes of playing immediately. Neal said he left Notre Dame to be closer to his infant daughter and the rest of his family.

"I thought this was the best decision for me to be close to my daughter and be there for her," Neal said. "Notre Dame was a great program, but it wasn't best for me to stay there with my daughter in Arizona."

The slot receiver and punt returner should make an instant impact, regardless of whether he's approved to play in 2013. Neal was a priority of Rodriguez's when he first took the Arizona job in November 2011.

Rodriguez hired Neal's high school coach, Charlie Ragle, and signed two of his Chaparral teammates, linebacker Cody Ippolito and defensive end Dylan Cozens, hoping Neal would follow them to Tucson.

What followed was one of the most bizarre recruiting sagas ever.

Neal was scheduled to announce his decision in January 2012 but delayed his announcement until February because he wanted to visit the UA. However, he canceled his trip to Tucson because of a death in his family and never made it to campus.

Neal then set an early-morning news conference in late February to announce his decision at his former elementary school in Phoenix. When it was time for him to pledge to a school, he never showed up.

Neal arrived later that afternoon and committed to Notre Dame over Arizona, Arkansas and North Carolina.

He played sparingly as a true freshman at Notre Dame, catching one pass for minus-5 yards and returning 21 punts for 46 yards.

The former Chaparral star decided to transfer after playing in the national championship game to be closer to his daughter, Baylee.

Neal's dad, Luke, was convinced his son was going to commit to UCLA this week. San Diego State also was reportedly interested. But Rodriguez called the elder Neal late last week for one final pitch.

It changed everything.

"The biggest thing that changed for Davonte' was that coach Rodriguez called me and talked to me, which I have 100 percent respect for him doing that," Luke Neal said. "He asked about the situation and what we were thinking about doing. I said, '(I) think we're looking at California schools.' That's where Davonte' was looking. But since he called me personally, I later that day told him I would see if Davonte' would entertain staying in-state.

"Based on that conversation, I told Davonte' I thought he should hear coach Rodriguez out."

The younger Neal did just that.

"He's a phenomenal talent," said Scout.com national recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman. "We had him as a top-five defensive back, but he's very effective as a receiver, too.

"He can make an impact as soon as he comes in."

On StarNet: Watch video clips of Neal in action at: azstarnet.com/video

The Davonte' Neal file

• Height/weight: 5-9/171

• Road to Arizona: Laveen Cesar Chavez High School to Scottsdale Chaparral High School to Notre Dame.

• Recruiting love: Neal was ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the country by ESPN.com as a high school senior and was named a Parade All-American and an ESPNHS All-American. He was considered the fifth-best cornerback prospect in the country by the Scout.com recruiting service but played wide receiver at Notre Dame and will likely stay there at Arizona.

• By the numbers: Neal accounted for 2,430 yards of total offense as a senior at Chaparral and had 31 total TDs.

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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