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Aggies QB presents difficult challenge

Only two days after Toledo’s Bruce Gradkowski picked apart Pitt’s defense with a record-setting passing performance, Panthers coaches were mesmerized by film of another sophomore quarterback.

They watched in amazement as Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal zipped by the Virginia Tech defense on a 16-yard run during a 98-yard scoring drive late in the first half.

McNeal presents a new challenge for Pitt (2-1) when it plays Texas A&M (2-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in a nationally televised game at Kyle Field in College Station.

“Their quarterback, Reggie McNeal, is a completely different athlete than anyone we’ve faced because he’s so fast and he can run,” Pitt coach Walt Harris said. “He was running around the Virginia Tech defense – and we all know how ballyhooed Virginia Tech’s defense is.”

In only his fourth career start – and first on the road – McNeal accounted for 169 yards total offense in the first half of the 35-19 loss. He completed 11 of 21 pass attempts for 133 yards and had 12 carries for 47 yards. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer summed McNeal up in one word: “Wow.”

“He certainly surprised me with his speed because he outran a couple of our guys who can run,” Beamer said. “He’s very athletic and he threw the ball well. He’s a guy who can hurt you. He’s got the total package.”

After a storied four-sport Texas prep career at Lufkin High, McNeal’s reputation is growing nationally.

The 6-foot-2, 191-pounder was one of the nation’s top prospects as a senior, and is best remembered for leading Lufkin to the Class 5A Division II state title. The Panthers overcame deficits in four of their six playoff games. In the state final, he orchestrated a 32-point turnaround.

“During the playoffs, he did what the great ones have the ability to do,” Lufkin coach John Outlaw said, “and that’s go to a completely different level.”

McNeal’s arrival was heralded in College Station, where former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum was under pressure to play McNeal immediately despite having three other quarterbacks on scholarship.

Yet McNeal saw limited action in six of the Aggies’ first nine games, and did not play against Pitt, Texas Tech or Nebraska. It wasn’t until second-ranked Oklahoma visited last Nov. 9 that McNeal finally got his chance.

After starter Dustin Long was ineffective, McNeal replaced him in the second quarter and threw touchdown passes of 61, 40, 17 and 40 yards to rally the Aggies to a 30-26 victory.

“I got a great experience from it, to play in that type of a game,” McNeal said. “I felt like I had to go out and show what I could do. I wanted to show my ability to lead a team.”

Now, college coaches are saying McNeal is reminiscent of former Virginia Tech and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Mike Vick for his scintillating speed and dazzling deception.

McNeal welcomes such comparisons.

“I enjoy hearing it because I like seeing Mike Vick play,” McNeal said. “He’s my favorite player to watch. I watch any time he steps onto the field.

“But I’m my own person. I like to go out and make plays and give my team a chance to win. I’ve got some talented receivers to throw to. If I’m pulling the ball down and running, there’s a purpose.”


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