Growing up with the game By Rick Cantu email@example.com
Westlake defensive tackle gets jump on success with tips from dad, a former UT and NFL blocker.
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.”
Junior tackle David Neil (left) helps give No. 4 Westlake one of the area’s top defenses.
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.