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May 22, 2012The shirt no longer fits LaDarrell McNeil, but it's significance carries on which is why McNeil will take it from his locker at Wilmer-Hutchins Hight School in Dallas to Knoxville next month when the 6-2, 200 pound safety begins his college career.
"I was in the 8th grade and we were getting ready to play for the city championship and my brother (Vincent McNeil, Jr.) gave me one of his high school t-shirts for good luck. I wore it that game and we won. I can't wear the shirt any more, but I keep it in my locker and see it before practice and on gamedays. It's helps me relax and be focused on what I need to do."
Vincent McNeil, Jr. is a 22 year old quarterback at Texas College, an NAIA school in Tyler, Texas. It's a two hour drive from Dallas and despite the distance the younger brother talks to his biggest influence regularly.
"We talk everyday," LaDarrell said. "He has taught me everything. He's the biggest influence on my life. He has showed me the right way to do things and has made sure that I have made the right choices to take the right path. As kids we fought and he picked on me like all brothers do, but we got through it and he's the reason where I am today."
McNeil will carry that influence and knowledge with him to Knoxville for the first session of summer school and begin the next chapter of his life.
"I'm excited," McNeil said. "Everyone is excited for me. My family, my school. Everyone is excited to see me come up there and play. I have been working out, finishing up my academics and spending some time with my friends. It's been nice to relax a bit, but I'm ready to get up there and get to work."
Like any incoming freshman, McNeil is excited and nervous as well.
"I am not too worried about the physical part of the game and I think I can adjust to the coverages," McNeil said. "The football part is not what worries me. The part that makes me the most nervous is just time management."
Getting to know McNeil:
Who is LaDarrell McNeil?
"I like to think I am a confident guy, but I don't have an ego or the big head. I'm not a guy who thinks he's better than someone else, but I believe in my ability. And I think I'm a great listener."
If you could have dinner with any three people who would it be?
"I would go with Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa who are hip hop artist and think I would invite Elzie Barnett, my high school school. He's a guy I really look up to. He's like a father figure to me. My dad is around, but he has his family so we don't see each other all the time. Coach Barnett has been with me since I was in the 6th grade and when my brother when to college, coach Barnett was really there for me. He's a guy I can call anytime. It doesn't matter. If I need something in the middle of the night, he's going to help me."
Pre-game routine or ritual?
"I have my brother's t-shirt in my locker and then my friend, Damien Lowry, and I always wear each other's t-shirts under our jersey's. Damien is going to Iowa State so we are swapping t-shirts with each other before we go off to college and we can keep doing that when he's at Iowa State and I'm at Tennessee."
Favorite or funny Tennessee recruiting moment?
"One memory that I won't ever forget is when coach Dooley came to visit me and my mom at the house. It's a moment no one on my street will forget. Not many college coaches come into my neighborhood and coach Dooley comes down this street in a white SUV. Everyone was wondering who he was. After he visited with us and we had a great visit when he left everyone on the street came running to the house asking me who was there and was it someone famous. I just told them all that it was my football coach at Tennessee. It was a pretty cool moment."