The Drill: Zach Neal a key sparkplug on winning JCC football team
JACKSON -- A dependable performer on the Jackson County Central Huskies football team this fall, Zachary Neal was also one of the team’s most identifiable players. Built compact, he is listed at 5-7 and 190 pounds.
To see him suited up on the sidelines, you’d think of him as a linebacker. And that is, of course, the defensive position he played this year as a senior.
He has a nickname. It seems to fit: “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Being named after a cartoon character who lives in the sea appears a bit bizarre, but the fact is that the “real” SpongeBob -- short, compact and wide -- bears a certain resemblance to the solidly-built Neal, without the sponginess.
Neal, who plays both football and baseball for the Huskies, turned in a very good fall season for his school, helping them to a 9-2 record. Jackson County Central, with seniors like Neal leading the way, hit the ground running in 2018 and didn’t stop until falling to top-seeded Fairmont 35-18 in the finals of the Section 3AAA tournament.
Neal, who was a running back on offense, helped solidify a JCC defense that held seven opponents to single digits. He fell in love with the game at a young age, playing tackle football since third grade, and flag football a couple of years before that.
The Globe interviewed and shot video footage of Neal recently for The Drill. You can see the video online at www.dglobe.com. Here’s a sample of the interview:
QUESTION: How did you get started in football?
ANSWER: “My dad got me really interested in football. He got me a football for Christmas one year, and every time he went out to harvest and he came back with a grain cart, we’d play catch. And I just had a blast out on the yard.”
QUESTION: The Huskies were a rather young and inexperienced team last season, but this year you really hit the ground running. What’s the biggest difference?
ANSWER: “I’m really enjoying this year because there’s less responsibility on the coaches and more responsibility on the kids. And that makes it a lot more fun to play with everyone.”
QUESTION: What would you say is your most memorable individual experience with the football team?
ANSWER: “Probably my first varsity high school game. It was against Luverne, and I was a sophomore. It was kind of a wild first half because our coach wasn’t too happy with one of our players. So I got to play a little more. And I just couldn’t believe how fun it was to play with all the older kids. It just really drew me in further.”