By Reggie Ellis
Whether its ramming opposing linebackers or deflecting criticism, Lorenzo Neal doesn't just overcome obstacles he hits them head on.
The stocky Neal was a star football player for Lemoore High School who punished opposing defenses as a powerful downhill style running back. But coaches said he wasn't agile enough to play running back and that if he wanted to play in college he would have to switch to linebacker.
Neal ran for 75 yards and a touchdown and was named Most Valuable Player in Fresno State's 24-7 victory over USC in the 1992 Freedom Bowl. In 1998, Neal established himself as the hardest hitting fullback in the NFL and helped pave the way for Tampa Bay running backs Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn who both had 1,000 yard seasons, a franchise record.
In college, scouts said he couldn't play running back or fullback in the NFL.
Bottom line, at 5 feet 10 inches tall, Neal was just too small to make it at the highest level of competition.
In 2002, Neal, blocking for Corey Dillon for the Cincinnati Bengals, was voted the starting fullback for the AFC Pro Bowl team.
On April 27, 2003 Neal spoke to about 150 Exeter Union High School student athletes who are members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
"A setback is nothing more than a setup for a comeback," Neal told the students.
Neal, the son of a Lemoore pastor, discussed how his faith in God and his belief in himself helped propel him to his ultimate goal of being a professional football player.
"A lot of guys were faster and stronger," he said. "But I told myself, 'I'm going to outwork this person. They may be more talented than me but no one is going to work harder than me.' If you work hard you will have success at whatever you do."
Neal said it is easy to idolize NFL players, but that the people who are successful look at themselves and not at others.
"God's perfect but people are not. Don't put any man on a pedestal because a man can always fail you," he said. "God is always there and if you believe He will never fail you. Don't focus on other people, focus on your life."
Neal said practicing, both in sports and faith, was the key to being the best.
"You practice to be perfect, to come back from any setbacks you might have. The more effort you put in the better athlete, student, person and Christian you become."