It has been a difficult road to the NFL draft for Lorenzo Neal Jr. The name might ring a bell, and that is because his father, Lorenzo Neal, played fullback in the NFL for 16 seasons. For his son, the journey has had some roadblocks.
He attended Purdue with one clear goal, making it to the NFL. Of course, that is the mindset for numerous athletes when playing collegiate sports, but for Neal, this was different.
Neal started 16 games in his first two seasons at defensive tackle with the Boilermakers. He had over 30 tackles, had 8.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. In his junior year, he had upped his game until they faced Indiana at the end of the season. He tore his ACL and would miss his senior year, which he was able to redshirt.
"It was really important when I when I got injured to just take a step back and really assess my life because there was a time a couple of years ago, when I wouldn't be a fringe draft prospect or free agent guy, I was a sharp pick, I was a, you know, talent and I think sometimes you can get caught up in that," explained Neal. "Once I got injured, I kind of had to block the noise out and realize that like I'm still who I am, and I'm still the player that I was always knew I was, I just have to work even harder now to prove that."
Did he consider hanging it up?
"I can never do that to this game. I can never do it to myself because I know how much work I put in," said Neal. "I know how talented I am, and I know what I can do, especially at the next level."
He came back from injury in 2020. Unfortunately, Neal only had five games to play due to COVID-19 and games being canceled. He was able to play in multiple schemes, which the NFL is a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme.
"I played both in college last year, I'd say we probably played a little more three, four, but over my career, I've been able to play both," explained Neal. "I think I'm good at both. I like aspects of both styles. So really, whatever scheme. I'm wanting to fit in, I can fit in, and I think I can excel in either role."
He believes he could bring a lot to an NFL team if given a chance.
"I think I bring not only my size with my physicality and my quickness, I think I'm a lot better of an athlete than I get credit for," said Neal.
Now that he is getting ready for the NFL Draft, he said he has spoken to a few teams. There is one team that stands out in his memory bank—the team with the lightning bolt on their helmet.
His father played for numerous teams, but he said he remembers the most about the team that was located on Murphy Canyon Road.
"I have a lot of memories of San Diego and in the Chargers growing up. I spent a lot of Sundays in Qualcomm with the family in, you know, a lot of time in that city," recalled Neal. "So even though the team has moved, I still understand the Chargers fan base and really what that's like I mean, growing up, my dad will take you to a facility, and so I think that would be kind of like life coming full circle if that makes sense."
What does he think about where the Chargers are headed?
"I think a lot of people are looking right now at the Chargers as like one of those places where you want to be because you think they're going to start winning and really building some momentum because they've got a young core, and they've been able to retain a lot of those young guys," said Neal.
When a player is a legacy, it could be challenging to live up to "the hype." Neal's father was one of the greatest fullbacks in NFL history.
"It hasn't been difficult," explained Neal. "I haven't felt pressure from anybody but myself. I'm usually my toughest critic, and a lot of times, people have to tell me to relax and lighten up on myself, but I've never really felt pressured because of who my dad was or what he did. It's more of a me thing."
Neal looks toward his father for guidance at times, but he says the former NFL player has really taken a step back and given advice when needed.
"I think that, that the thing that my dad is probably best supplied is perspective," explained Neal. "He's always seen everything before it happened, and even when I don't really want to listen to it, he's pretty good at me, like being able to tell me how things are going to go for me and even up to this process. I think that he's done a good job, just preparing me for the next step in my life, and he always did that in my career."
Now the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to the competitive spirit of both the former NFL player and the future NFL player. Neal says that growing up, they competed in basketball, football, and even wrestling.
"We don't compete that often anymore," said Neal. "Because we're both very competitive and when you know two people who don't like to lose, you can't do a whole bunch of competitive stuff, because then at dinner later people aren't still over the winner and the loser, and he's a sore loser. So, and I am too."
That competitive spirit he will bring to the NFL. He plans to work hard and be ready for whatever opportunity he is given.
"As far as I'm concerned, I just need one team, like, they're sure they're 32. but I need one to give me a call, or whatever that is or whatever time that is, and that's all I need," explained Neal. "After that, I'm confident I won't need another chance. I just need one."