January 21, 2009

McNeal ready to put in winter work

Curtis McNeal was the shortest position player on the field as the Trojans begun their winter workouts Tuesday morning.

Surrounded by physical specimens like safety Taylor Mays, McNeal doesn't appear worried or intimidated.

Instead, as he let out a monumental yawn, he seemed to be fighting off the after effects of the early wake-up call.

"Man, It's still dark. It was pretty hard for me getting up," McNeal said. "But, I'd rather work out at 6 because it's not so hot and not so cold. It's easier than if you come out later in the day."

McNeal made things look pretty easy at times during his first year on campus. After arriving late with Nick Perry, McNeal might have led the team in jaw-dropping moves and oh-my-God moments.

There was the time he faked out the entire defense with a super slick back-and-forth move. Then, there was the time he put his helmet into Rey Maualuga's chest and knocked the sizable linebacker back.

Now heading into his first camp with strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle, McNeal thinks he and Perry have unlimited growth potential.

"I think me and Nick will be really good. We weren't here. We missed the summer, and now, we can get all that work in. We're here. We'll get in better shape.

"We'll learn more."

The coaches may have already learned what they unearthed in McNeal. A three-star prospect in the 2008 recruiting class, McNeal reminds Carlisle of the San Diego Chargers' Darren Sproles and even NFL Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders.

"He's a greenhouse guy," Carlisle said. "You just put him in the right situation, around good people doing good things, and you watch him grow."

Mays is one of those sources. After the first workout of the year, McNeal didn't hesitate to name the player being the most vocal on Howard Jones Field.

"Taylor's pushing everybody. He made sure everyone would get through it," McNeal said. "When Coach Carroll said he was staying, I was excited, but it was even better to see him here in the meetings and on the field."

And now that his offseason work has begun, McNeal has his sights set on a singular goal. He doesn't just want to shave a few tenths off his 40-yard dash time. He just doesn't want to add to his squat or his bench.

McNeal wants to play.

"I'm just trying to get on the field. I just want to play," he said. "I want to show the coaches what I can do. I just want to work hard. I want to show them I want it.

"(Improving my 40-yard dash) would be OK, but I'd rather show them I work hard and listen."

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