BOGACZYK: Neely Hoping to Help Herd Defense on Back Line
The Word on the Herd-April 19, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Two years ago, Corey Neely was pointed toward a future in Conference USA football.
It just hasn’t turned out quite like the former junior college safety thought it would.
Neely, having finished his junior college sophomore season at Georgia Military College, had made a commitment to UAB … until the Blazers pulled the plug on their program, a hiatus from football that ends in 2017.
By then, Neely will be finished with his career at Marshall, where he was a late signee … on Green-White Game weekend a year ago.
Neely’s Herd debut season in 2015 wasn’t what he or Marshall coaches thought it could be. Now, playing with the first and second units in a secondary in need of depth, Neely wants to make the most of his senior year.
“It’s very important for me to come out and work hard and get out there and play, being this is my last season,” Neely said after last Saturday’s first scrimmage of spring drills. “So, I want to play on defense. I want to help make the team better.
“I feel way more comfortable now than I did last year. I feel like I’m getting there, where I need to be, where I want to be. It’s about knowing the plays and getting after it. It’s learning everything and then you play faster by the looks of it. It’s running to the ball every chance I get.”
A scout team staple, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Neely played on three special teams units in nine games for the 10-3 Herd in 2015 – kickoff, kickoff return and punt return. On defense, however, he got only 53 snaps in five games as Taj Letman played nearly every play at free safety and Tiquan Lang and Kendall Gant split time at boundary safety.
He made five tackles with one pass breakup.
This spring, Herd defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater said prior to spring drills that Marshall needed Neely’s contribution, and the veteran coordinator is working the Rock Hill, S.C., native at both safety spots in base defense and also at one of those positions in nickel coverage.
“It’s about confidence,” Heater said. “Corey is more confident in what he’s doing – the assignments, and when you’re more confident, you play faster. So, he’s faster and that allows him to play up to his skill set. Confidence is a big deal. If he’s not confident, he’s a little late reacting, so he’s trying to understand what we’re asking him to do, and then get more consistent with it.”
In his final junior college season, Neely was an NJCAA All-America honorable mention pick as a teammate of current Herd tight end Emanuel Byrd. Neely had 91 tackles, 3 interceptions, a forced fumble, 3 fumbles recovered, 10 pass breakups and scored a touchdown on an interception.
Prior to his two JUCO seasons, Neely helped South Point High in Rock Hill to 14-1 record and Class AAA South Carolina state title as 2012 senior, and he was named the area defensive player of the year.
His offers after starring at GMC included UAB, Ball State, Georgia State, the Herd and several FCS programs, and Neely said he was “talking to Western Kentucky” also after the Blazers’ program was dropped.
“You hope that when a junior college guy comes in, the bulb can go on a little quicker, but it didn’t happen,” Heater said. “We’re still playing, so we need everybody. I need more help at safety and Corey is getting great reps.
“He’s actually rotating with the ones at times. He’s getting real reps and we’ll have a real opportunity to evaluate him. Hopefully, we’ll get to the point where we have confidence playing with him in there. He was getting ones and nickel reps (Saturday), which is real. That’s also a good opportunity to evaluate him because you’re running against the No. 1 offense, too.”
Neely’s opportunities are enhanced this spring with Lang and cornerback/nickel Antavis “Skip” Rowe limited by injuries. The more time they spend on the sideline, the more reps players like Neely and true freshman Jeremiah Maddox will receive.
Neely, 22, said that coming from the very successful Georgia Military program – it sent 2013-14 star Marshall linebacker Neville Hewitt and then his classmate Byrd to the Herd – he felt a tug to continue that recent tradition.
“Yeah, I feel a lot of pressure about that,” he said. “You want to be that guy, too. It is a lot of pressure. And coming in from junior college, it’s pressure because you don’t know if you’re going to play the first year and then if you don’t, you only have one year left.
“You’re trying to play the first year, but there’s a lot going on, a new place, new system. And if you don’t play the first year, you know you’ve got to step in some way and just help out. It was a big transition but the guys who were in front of me – Taj, AJ (Leggett, former Herd safety), Tiquan – they really helped me out, by helping teach me.”
Heater said the final two weeks of spring ball and August camp will be big for Neely.
“What he lacked last year was about the learning curve, the process,” Heater said. “This spring, it’s slowed down a little for him, and he can’t quite play to his skill set because he’s still learning what we’re asking him to do. Once he gets that down, then he’s got a good enough skill set to play.”
Neely is anxious to show that.
“I’ve gotten better at both (safety) spots since last season,” he said. “Last year, I played field (safety). The biggest thing I’m trying to is be more coachable. Last year, I had a hard time doing that, just coming in, trying to figure everything out.
“That’s changed now. I’m a lot more comfortable in what I’m doing.”