Grow­ing up with the game By Rick Cantu rcantu@states­man.com

West­lake de­fen­sive tackle gets jump on suc­cess with tips from dad, a for­mer UT and NFL blocker.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORTS -

Meet David Neil, a thick-legged yet un­der­sized foot­ball player with a burn­ing pas­sion for the game. He’s just like his dad used to be. That be­came ev­i­dent when Neil, a ju­nior de­fen­sive tackle for West­lake High, bumped hel­mets with Cedar Park play­ers Fri­day dur­ing a scrim­mage at Gup­ton Sta­dium. After a team­mate pounced on a fum­ble, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Neil was the first player to con­grat­u­late him as they headed to the side­line.

Be­neath a black and gray sky — Hur­ri­cane Har­vey was hours from mak­ing land­fall at San Jose Is­land — David’s fa­ther, Dan Neil, a for­mer Texas Longhorns and Den­ver Bron­cos of­fen­sive line­man, stood along a sta­dium rail, watch­ing his son have a ball.

“David gave his first ‘Hook ’em, Horns’ sign when he was 2 years old,” Dan Neil said.

Roughly 15 years later, David Neil will be a de­fen­sive force for a West­lake team ranked No. 4 in the Amer­i­can-States­man’s pre­sea­son high school foot­ball poll.

West­lake, a Class 6A, Di­vi­sion I state quar­ter­fi­nal­ist in 2016, might have the best de­fense in the area this fall. The Cha­parrals re­turn eight starters, led by Neil, his fel­low line­man Braden Cas­sity, and de­fen­sive backs Matthew Sams and Keaton Jones. A year ago, the Chaps limited six op­po­nents to fewer than 10 points.

“I see no rea­son why West­lake can’t get bet­ter every sin­gle year,” Neil said.

He knows he’s not the largest de­fen­sive player on the field, but

he re­al­izes he has a chance to be­come an all-time great at West­lake. As a sopho­more, he to­taled nearly 40 tack­les, in­clud­ing 4½ sacks.

“He’s grown up so much and has be­come a big and pow­er­ful ath­lete,” said Todd Dodge, West­lake’s head coach. “He can play mul­ti­ple po­si­tions — de­fen­sive tackle, de­fen­sive end, run­ning back, tight end — but what I have seen al­most every day and every week is his pas­sion.”

Neil ad­mits that he has an edge over most high school foot­ball play­ers. After all, his fa­ther played in 108 NFL games — all with the Bron­cos — over an eight-year span and owns two Su­per Bowl rings.

Yet Dan Neil said he never pushed his son to play foot­ball.

“I re­ally wanted him to play all sports as a kid — foot­ball, base­ball, bas­ket­ball,” said the 43-year-old Neil, who’s also 6-2 but weighed about 285 pounds as an NFL line­man.

David Neil said foot­ball be­came his sport when he played run­ning back in the eighth grade, but when he ar­rived at West­lake as a fresh­man, Cha­parrals as­sis­tant Tony McClain had other plans for him. The coach saw him as a can’t-miss de­fen­sive line­man who would de­velop over time.

That was fine with Neil, who said he never wanted to fol­low his fa­ther onto the of­fen­sive line.

Both of them joke about it now.

“I point out to David that guys who are not smart enough to play O-line go play D-line,” Dan said. “Then he’ll quickly point out that guys not ath­letic enough to play D-line go to O-line.”

David, though, has a healthy re­spect for his dad’s accomplishments.

“I as­pire to do ev­ery­thing my dad did,” he said. “Texas would be my No. 1 school if given the chance. I just wouldn’t want to live in his shadow if that were to hap­pen.”

There are other ad­van­tages to hav­ing a fa­ther who played big-time foot­ball.

“My dad can tell me ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on in the head of an of­fen­sive line­man,” David said. “He’ll tell me what they’re think­ing, what their pass blocks are . ... It’s re­ally nice hav­ing some­one on the of­fen­sive side of the ball there to help you and help you de­velop a foot­ball IQ.”

Dan Neil said he would be thrilled if his son had the op­por­tu­nity to play for the Longhorns, but he pumps the brakes on la­bel­ing David a great player at this point. The West­lake coach­ing staff will help his son’s progress, Dan said, and in time David should be able to bask in team and in­di­vid­ual suc­cess.

“Right now,” Dan said, “I’m just be­ing a proud dad.”

CON­TRIB­UTED BY RON­ALD CORTES 2016

Ju­nior tackle David Neil (left) helps give No. 4 West­lake one of the area’s top de­fenses.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY JOHN GUTIERREZ

West­lake de­fen­sive tackle David Neil ex­changes words with a Cedar Park of­fen­sive line­man fol­low­ing an in­frac­tion dur­ing their scrim­mage last week. Neil to­taled nearly 40 tack­les, in­clud­ing 4½ sacks, last sea­son as a sopho­more.

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