As a senior at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, Durron Neal was a yardage and touchdown machine. All told, Neal accounted for 1541 yards and 26 touchdowns, both through the air and on the gournd, during his final high school season.
Neal was also was one of the reasons Jay Norvell’s 2012 No. 1 rated wide receiver class was so highly regarded.
Neal can play.
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Neal arrived in Norman last summer to get a head start on playing time this season. As soon as two-a-days practices began, OU coaches knew he would be a factor this season as one of Landry Jones’ top receiving targets.
But after three games this season, Neal hadn’t logged a catch.
“Coming to college you always dream about catching passes,” said Neal, who spoke with the media this week for the first time since arriving in Norman. “Obviously I know coming in as a freshmen on an experienced team you know you’re time will come. Sometimes you will get frustrated about it but you just keep working and keep working and keep grinding until your time comes. When the opportunity is there you take advantage of it.”
That opportunity came for Neal last week against Texas Tech. Neal caught his first two passes of his college career against Texas Tech.
He’s whittling away at those high school numbers in Norman. Two receptions for 38 yards.
A long way to go, but Neal will take it.
“It was very exciting to get my first college catch,” he said. “To have the trust of your quarterback is always a good thing. We spread the ball around to different receivers and it makes the offense go a lot faster. It seemed like Landry threw the ball to a lot of different receivers and our offense was just clicking on all cylinders.”
Patience hasn’t harder for Neal than most. That’s because there’s another freshman on the team he sees every day. It’s the freshman most people have been talking about because he has made the biggest impact of all the players in that No. 1 rated recruiting class.
That player is Neal’s roommate, Sterling Shepard.
“Every time we go back to the room after a game he lets me know the feeling and it just makes me more excited to get out there with him and help the team the best I can,” said Neal. “I got my chance this past weekend and I made the best of it.”
Neal has always been a big user of social media since his high school days. But without any grabs over the Sooners’ first three games, he was feeling a little disconnected from home.
His family and friends hadn’t seen him shine as he did as a senior at De Smet. After Texas Tech, those closest to him finally got a glimpse of how hard he’s been working at Oklahoma.
They finally got a look at the former superstar they expected to see.
“My Twitter page blew up and I got a lot of text messages after the game,” Neal said with a big smile. “It felt good to put it on for my city and to represent St. Louis as well.
“A lot of people, with me being one of the biggest recruits out of St. Louis, this is a big thing coming to a big program like Oklahoma. It was real good to see how many people have been keeping up with me and watching me since high school.”
Now it’s time for Neal to move to an even bigger stage, the Red River Rivalry.
With Jones throwing to more receivers, and spreading the ball around, Neal’s ready to start whittling away on some of those high school touchdown numbers.
It could happen. Neal is now a part of Jones’ inner circle of receivers. He’s gained the senior quarterback’s trust after his performance in Lubbock.
“He’s the leader and he asks us what we see out there and he takes our input. We do the same,” Neal explained. “He wants to have a good connection with all the receivers.”
Now when Jones huddles with the receivers on the sideline, Neal is included in those conversations. Things are changing for Neal quickly.
It must feel good for the young freshman.
“Yeah, it does,” he answered. “I’m just trying to keep it that way. As long as he knows we trust him, we get the same back.”