“It’s no risk,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s like signing a free agent in the NFL with no guaranteed money. At that level you just cut him [if the signing doesn’t work out], at this level you just don’t play him.”
Prior to spring McNeal announced his intention to transfer from FAU. Reports originally had McNeal transferring to Texas Southern. Over the summer, however, McNeal surfaced at Southern Methodist, where he was supposedly switching from wide receiver to defensive end.
If McNeal ever did take the practice field for the Mustangs – SMU appears to have taken down a website player page for McNeal that listed him at defensive end but wouldn’t confirm or deny that he was ever part of the program – it didn’t last long.
McNeal returned to campus over the past week but has yet to return to the practice field. Kiffin said FAU plans to get him on the field beginning next week.
When approached with the potential of a McNeal return, Kiffin says he gave the final decision to the team.
“I discussed this with the players’ leadership group and left it up to them, and they said, Hey, let him come back. Even though he left, Hey, if the guy can help us win that’s our No. 1 priority,” Kiffin said.
McNeal began his career at Texas before heading to junior college, then FAU.
His career as an Owl started strong, catching 18 passes in his first four games before virtually disappearing for the remainder of his stay. In the 22 games that followed McNeal managed only six more receptions, including one last season.
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds and possessing good speed, McNeal has the physical tools to excel at wide receiver, but sources tell OwlAccess.com that his flaky attitude and unwillingness to block prompted long stints on the bench.
McNeal was one of four wide receivers expected to contribute this season who left the program between the end of last season and the start of fall camp. He’s the second to return to the Owls during fall camp, joining 2019 JUCO signee Adrian Bryant.
The Owls head to Ohio St. for Saturday’s season-opener with both starting wide outs, John Mitchell and Pico Harrison, facing injury questions. FAU has precious little game experience behind those two. Much of that experience comes in the form of two transfers new to the program, former USF wide receiver DeAngelo Antoine and former UCF defensive back Rasaan Lewis.
Both Antoine and Lewis are better suited to the slot receiver position, but they will start their FAU careers as wide outs because the Owls already have two-year starter Willie Wright and Dante Cousart in the slot.
There is no timetable for McNeal’s readiness to play in a game.