RISING PROSPECT: Evan Neal (2018)

Van Horn wide receiver putting together strong senior season.

Van Horn wide receiver Evan Neal, is off to a big start to his senior season.

At 5’10, 150-pounds, Neal bring speed and athleticism to the field, as well as the ability to run crisp routes. He has been clocked at 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and 11.66 in the 100-meter dash.

Neal has been a defensive player throughout his entire football career and was among the team’s leading tackles a year ago. He says he brings a tough, no-nonsense mindset to the offense.

“I would say that above everything, I work hard and I lead with heart,” Neal said. “I’ve been playing football since I could walk and there’s nothing better than putting in the work to get good results. It’s no surprise to anyone – everybody can seen I’m probably the leanest guy on the field.

“I think sometimes people underestimate what they expect to see out of this 5’10, 150-pund Wide Receiver. What they probably don’t realize is I’ve been a defensive player my entire football career – until this year. Just last year I was one of the leading tackles on my team.”

Van Horn is off to a 3-1 start this season with wins over KC Southeast (46-20), Sherwood (61-0) and Butler (32-22) and a loss to Warrensburg (47-14). The Falcons were slated to host Truman this week. Neal says the team has overcome the loss of a large senior class and is gaining confidence.

“We’ve graduated a lot of good seniors in the past few years, but I’m confident this year we’ll be one of the best teams in the conference and recognized in the state,” he says. “Our football record, and our team really follows the story of Van Horn in general. We’re the school that so many doubted and still doubt.

“When people were moving out, some of us stayed, others like me and my family moved in.”

Neal takes pride in his route running ability and says he spends a lot of time on perfecting clean, crisp routes across the field. He also spent much of the offseason focused on improving his speed and hoped to shave some time off his 40-yard dash time.

“I have no problem getting down the field and beating my opponents in getting there, but now I want to anticipate,” Neal said “I want to see openings and holes in the defense and just really be a smarter player overall. Most importantly I want to be a champion for my team. I want to keep my QB and all my guys encouraged when we get in ruts or we need something to set us on fire to keep going. This year it’s time to be a team leader and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Neal began playing football in second grade for a little league football team in Grain Valley called the Eagles (Eagles White).

“I loved playing for those coaches because they taught us great discipline and how to drive when everyone else is taking short cuts,” he says. “We were never the best team across the league, but we won often. That’s because we were grinders. We had to fight, claw and scrap for every play and it made us stronger at heart.”

As a freshman and sophomore at Grain Valley High School, Neal maintained a 3.9 GPA, was active in orchestra and served as a volunteer in his community. He has since made the move to Van Horn and says the biggest influence in his football career has been his mom.

“She has never quit – not on me or on life,” Neal said. “She showed me how to be strong when things got tough … From the time I was 10 until just about three years ago, I saw her struggle through it, keep her head up and fight for the things she loved and cherished.

“Two things that remained normal and really that kept me breathing every day was God and football. From the time I was born my mother helped me find a strong love and passion for both.”

Neal says he appreciates the life and story of Rams’ wide receiver Tavon Austin who also made his start at a small school, but stood out as a team player.

“He was fast and gritty and his speed carried him to many college and career records,” Neal said. “He wasn’t necessarily the most famous WR or at the very top of the NFL picks when he was drafted in 2013. But he had heart, speed, determination and faith. I believe that combination is a winner every time.”

Although he hasn’t received any formal offers, Neal says he has drawn some interest rom Washburn, William Jewell and  Southwest Baptist University. He hopes to pursue a degree in Business Management (accounting).