Five things to know about Falcons top draft pick Keanu Neal (with more to come in Sunday’s AJC and on Myajc.com):
1. The second scholarship he was offered, while still a sophomore at South Sumter County High School (Bushnell, Fla.) was to Georgia Tech. Before signing with Florida, Neal also received interest from South Florida, Central Florida, Auburn and South Carolina.
Yeah, he and his 3.5 high school GPA were considering the Yellow Jackets. “I considered it a lot,” he said. “Every offer I got I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I never would have thought I’d be where I am right now at that time. Just getting college offers, I was really looking at each team that showed interest.” Tech could not compete with the proximity of Gainesville.
2. He’s the brother of former safety Clint Hart, who played for seven seasons in the NFL, mostly for the San Diego Chargers. Hart’s route to the league was far more circuitous than his little brother’s, as he played for such exotic varietals as the Tallahassee Thunder, Tampa Bay Storm, Amsterdam Admirals and Omaha Nighthawks while trying to catch on with the big firm. Clint played baseball at Central Florida Community College and was a late-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But he was determined to make it in the other sport.
3. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the Gators’ defensive coordinator when Neal was being recruited by Florida. Quinn remembered the staff taking one look at his high school tape and saying in unison, “We got to get this guy.”
“Although I didn’t have the opportunity to coach him (in college), I’m pumped up to have that opportunity now,” Quinn said Friday.
4. Before the draft process slipped into gear, Neal was considered no better than a mid-round pick on many web sites (although the Falcons said he always a first-rounder in their eyes). Some who covered the Gators, in fact, were surprised he made the trip to Chicago to sit among the potential first-rounders. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (taken by Tampa Bay on Thursday) had a bigger rep, and fellow back junior-to-be Jalen Tabor had the louder personality. But Neal was seen by Florida coaches as the real spine of that secondary.
5. Yes, he is named after that Keanu — thanks much to brother Clint. He was a fan of Keanu Reeves and immediately suggested the name to his mother. She loved it, and, thus, the first ever Keanu to grace a NFL roster was born. Neal, however, is not a big fan of the other Keanu’s work, telling the scribes at the NFL combine that he really didn’t get the whole “Matrix” thing. Friends and family just call him Keke.