By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
As soon as he can get his pads off after practice, Stillwater High School senior football player Chuck Neal rushes out of the locker room and around the corner to the training room.
His knees burn from two meniscus tears over the last few years, but it’s a pain Neal has learned to deal with to play a sport he loves.
“It’s been really hard on my knees this year,” Neal said. “They’ve been healing the past two weeks and they’re getting better and better.”
No doubt, Neal would like to sit on the sidelines and not endure anymore pain — especially with the Pioneers riding a five-game losing streak heading into the matchup against No. 3 Owasso Friday at Pioneer Stadium. But anybody who knows the 5-foot-10-inch senior, knows his dedication to the team won’t allow it.
“He’s battled a bad knee all season,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “Just his desire to play has been a big deal. He goes to the doctor to get fluid drained off his knee and he’ll be back at practice in the afternoon. If he wanted out of practice, he could have done it but he’s not that kind of guy. He’s a great kid who works hard for us.”
According to Barnard, Neal has always been a hard worker — whether it’s in practice or in the game. But over the last few weeks he’s had to work twice as hard after an injury has sidelined fellow senior Davyn Thompson.
“It’s hard to do when you’re healthy, let alone when you’re fighting injuries like we have been fighting,” Barnard said. “We try to spell him a little bit on defense and we try to spell him a little bit on offense, but ultimately you just have to tell him to suck it up and get it done and we’ll rest later. He’s done a good job for us.”
“It was a lot more tougher than what I expected,” Neal said. “There was a lot more running. It’s hard when you don’t have one of your leaders on your team helping you out. You can’t be worried about it. You have to move on and play your hardest.”
Even with Thompson day-to-day, Neal has flourished in his new role as the team’s running back. He may not be as quick as Thompson, but Barnard said they don’t take Neal’s ability to make plays for granted.
“He’s a little bit different back than Davyn,” Barnard said. “He’s explosive and he has good vision. He’s the type of guy that can make one move and go. He has the capability to run around you or run over you. He certainly has turned into a weapon for us.”
Neal may be developing as a running back, but it’s on defense where he hopes to make a name for himself in college football.
“It’s about even now,” Neal said. “At first, I’d rather be playing defense but the more and more I run, the more I like it. I still like to hit people or break up a pass, but I’m getting used to running the ball a little bit more.”
As for Barnard, having a player like Neal defending the pass against pass-happy teams like Tulsa Union also helps put his mind at ease.
“We put a lot on our corners as it is,” Barnard said. “It’s a tough position to play. But as a senior, we expect him to come up and make those plays for us. He’s tough mentally, so even if he does get beat, he goes right back out there and tries harder. That’s all you can ask for from your corners.”
The season may be coming to an end for the Pioneers, but Neal hopes a big game against Owasso will help propel his career to new heights.
“I’m trying to have the best game in my high school career this next game,” Neal said. “I believe if I have a good game, do everything possible, make every play that I can, I’m hoping someone will see that and maybe I can continue to play football in college.”