• 72°

Neal making a change

CREEKSVILLE – There are some athletes who choose not just to play like a champion, but to be one. Corey Neal is one of them.

Neal, who has lived in Jackson his entire life, has made the best of his high school career at Northampton County High School-East. As a member of the football, basketball and track teams, he has become known as an all-around athlete at Northampton-East.

He discovered his love for sports early on, but most importantly, acquired a love for excelling in the classroom.

“I cannot understand why someone would not want to work hard for good grades,” he said. “Achieving in the classroom is especially important to me, and it should be a priority for every high school student.”

Neal, who has an excellent grade point average in his first three years of high school, largely credits his parents for his inspiration to achieve.

“My parents and I have a great relationship,” he said. “I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am for what they have done to push me forward in both academics and sports.”

Neal has played football all his life, mostly at the running back and safety positions. Now, just one year after losing James Long and Laquan Tann to graduation, Rams’ Head Coach Greg Watford will post Neal at a different position, a role viewed as arguably the most significant in the game: quarterback.

Without question, Neal is the type of person that loves to take on a challenge, and his new role with the Northampton-East football team is no exception.

“I am very excited about playing quarterback this season,” he said. “It will be different, but I am willing to make the sacrifice of not playing running back and safety to fill the role my team needs me to fill.”

By taking on new responsibilities to help his team succeed, Neal has proven his leadership abilities. He also knows the balance between highly-vocal and quiet leadership styles.

“You want your teammates to take you seriously, especially the young ones who are looking up to you,” he said. “You want to focus not on how much you say, but how much impact you can make from what you say.”

When asked about his pre-game preparation procedure, he explained that he does like some “alone time” before he enters the locker room.

“I usually sit on the bleachers by myself and just focus on the game and what we have to do to win,” Neal said.

Neal went on to say that once he has had his time to think about the game, he then goes in with the rest of his teammates and prepares for the game with them. He emphasized the importance of using veteran leadership to help the younger players adjust to the elevated pace of high school football.

“You’ve got to make sure the young players are in the game and focused,” he said. “That’s something you have to work for not just before the game, but during it.”

With the upcoming season quickly approaching, the rising senior is excited about the challenges he faces.

“Playing quarterback and changing my position is one thing, but coming together as a team and seeing the chemistry we have is what I anticipate most,” Neal said.

He is also very excited about playing his final season under Watford.

“Coach (Watford) does a great job preparing the guys for the game and working with us during practice,”

Neal insisted.

Undoubtedly, Watford’s work has shown too. The season before his arrival, the Rams went just 4-6 overall and 0-4 in the Tar-Roanoke Conference. In 2007, Watford’s first season and Neal’s junior season, the Rams improved to 8-5 overall and 4-2 in the conference and even won an NCHSAA playoff game against Mattamuskeet High School, 39-13.

Like any great sports leader, Neal plans to take each game one step at a time. He did, however, mention two games on the schedule he is most anticipating.

“I am really looking forward to playing Hertford County again,” he said.

In 2007, the Bears shut out the Rams 29-0. Credit is due to the Bears for their win, but Neal did insist that the Rams “hurt themselves by not performing at their best level.”

He is also looking forward to the annual game with the rival Northampton-West Hurricanes, who just edged the Rams last season 36-33 at Northampton-West in Gaston.

“In my senior year, I feel like it is my obligation to rise to the occasion, and my hope is that we will have a great year with excellent team chemistry,” he clsoed.

Neal and the Northampton-East Rams open their regular season against East Carteret High School on August 22 in Beaufort.