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Alabama's Evan Neal 'how a franchise left tackle should be'

One of the few things Nick Saban hasn't done at Alabama is have a player selected first in the NFL draft. Could Evan Neal be the first?

NEW YORK — Evan Neal is a 6-foot-7, 337-pound offensive lineman who could go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft on Thursday night. His rare combination of massive size and elite athleticism has NFL organizations drooling. Last summer, before his junior year at Alabama, he positioned himself between two 48-inch foam plyo boxes, and rather than landing on just one box — the way normal people might approach a much lower box jump — Neal effortlessly nailed a split box jump.

Neal jumped 36 inches as a sophomore, and then Dr. Matt Rhea and Dave Ballou, the Crimson Tide’s Director of Sports Science and Director of Sports Performance, respectively, challenged him to go higher.  

"He’s big, he’s physical, he’s consistent, and you can’t teach that, man," said Duke Manyweather, a private offensive line coach who has known Neal since he was in high school and has been working with him ahead of the draft as part of the "Big Boys Club," an X’s and O’s and film study workshop for draft hopefuls that will air at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday and 9 p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1 and the FOX Sports app. "Those intangibles alone — he’s played a lot of football at Alabama, a lot of positions against a lot of great talent. He checks every box."

That type of stunt, performance, whatever you want to call it, is not something Alabama normally does with its players. 

"Most human beings cannot do what he did on that," said Jeff Allen, the Tide’s head athletic trainer. "It was something just to see what he was capable of, and it was incredibly impressive." 

Neal couldn’t recall anybody else in the gym attempting that exercise other than his former teammate, Heisman Trophy winner and current Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith

And even if other Tide players had tried it, the video might not have gone quite as viral. The kind of jaw-dropping power and freakish strength that Neal has coupled with his size is nothing short of legendary.

Neal never had a growth spurt. He was born 11 pounds, 22¾ inches and was 6-foot-6, 380 pounds by the eighth grade.

"I was always the biggest kid," he said. "It was cool, though. It was awesome. I definitely got mistaken for an adult quite a few times. I was just so massive."

Credit: AP
Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) tries to block Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal (8) during a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

 

What Neal has been able to do with that massive size is remarkable. He arrived at Alabama at 390 pounds, played close to 360 his freshman year and hovered around 337 ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine in early March. Neal holds his weight well and looks lean. He has never appeared out of shape — not even when he was heavier — and is fast off the line. It's a testament to his work ethic, nutrition and genetics.

"It’s hard to find players that big who move that well," former NFL lineman and FOX Sports analyst Geoff Schwartz said. "Part of that is when you watch him play, you’re like, ‘There’s a reach block, there’s a down block, there’s pass protection from a three-point stance.’ His film looks familiar because Alabama has an NFL-style offense. 

"Most college offenses don’t contain things you’d see in the NFL. For Evan, he’ll translate on Day 1. What you see is what you get."

Neal comes from a long line of football players. His father, Eddie, played linebacker at Tulane, and two uncles — Cleveland Gary and Jimmie Jones — played in the NFL. His younger sister, McKenzie, plays high school basketball and is being recruited to play in college.

With that kind of lineage, competitiveness came naturally. And as the seventh of eight kids, Neal was forced to develop a lot of grit.

"Evan always wanted to win," said his mother, Shelia. "He absolutely hated to lose. Even when he was 7 or 8 years old, he just couldn’t take it."

Shelia tells a story from when Evan was 7 and playing on a basketball team with 10-year-olds. His team was behind, and when he looked at the scoreboard, he started crying. Neal then helped his team come back to win the game and eventually matured to understand that he can’t always win everything in life. 

Even though, on the field, he basically has.

As a freshman, Neal went to Okeechobee High School in Florida, where both of his parents attended, before transferring to IMG Academy his sophomore year. His team went 27-1 in three seasons, and he became a five-star recruit, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country and the nation’s No. 7 overall player, according to 247Sports. Nearly every Division I program wanted him, but he was naturally drawn to Nick Saban.

At Alabama, Neal started as a true freshman, which is highly unusual. He played left guard in 2019, moved to right tackle in 2020 for the Tide’s national championship season and then switched to left tackle in 2021. He started 40 games over three seasons in three different positions and allowed just four sacks.

"It’s one thing to start. It’s another to excel, and he did that," Allen said. "I think Evan’s story really speaks to, ‘Hey, do you want to be good, or do you want to be excellent?’ A lot of guys realize the importance of doing the little things after they're done playing here. I see it all the time. Guys finish their college careers, and then all of the sudden, they want to get serious about recovery, sleep and nutrition. I tell players all the time if they had taken that approach as a sophomore or a junior, imagine the dividends. 

"And Evan saw that. It made a heck of a difference for him, and it’s going to pay off for him. That mindset is really, really rare. When you get to this level, every little thing matters."