Colin Neely: Leader of the D-Line
Nov. 18, 2010
By Michael Caples, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
"He's seen me grow up from a young kid in the back of the film room who would talk back when Coach Gill told him that he messed up," Neely said with a smile.
But after spending four years with Gill - and plenty of film room sessions - Neely has changed his opinion about his defensive line coach.
"Now, I know I messed up," Neely said, "or we already know things that were going on. He doesn't even need to say anything most of the time."
Trusting and learning from a coach is something that athletes from any sport take part in. Yet for Neely, his relationship with Gill is something that goes beyond the walls of Spartan Stadium and the Skandalaris Football Center.
"It's one of the most important relationships I have," Neely said. "I lost my father when I was 15, and he's pretty much the closest thing I have to a father now."
Gill sees his leader of the defensive line as much more than just one of his players.
"The thing about it, when all those things happen, you get real close to your kids," said Gill, who has more than 35 years of coaching experience. "I look upon Colin like my son. He's a guy you can always count on, you can always scold him and be nice to him, but I think because of the closeness of that relationship we have, I think it has given us an opportunity to coach him harder. He's been a pleasant surprise for all of us, and we're all excited that he's having the year that he's having. You just can't have a better guy to coach."
Despite missing the Wisconsin game with a hand injury, the fifth-year senior from Bethlehem, Pa., has recorded 22 total tackles, including a team-best seven for loss. Gill pointed to Neely's work ethic for his success on the field; last season,
the defensive end was awarded the 2009 Tommy Love Award as MSU's most improved player.
His work ethic and his football intelligence allowed Coach Gill to give Neely added responsibility with a young defensive line this season. The fifth-year senior has embraced his role as leader of the defensive line, comparing himself to another Spartan star.
"I try to be the Greg Jones of the d-line," Neely said. "I'm a pretty smart guy, so I try to help everybody out and let them know what sets we're seeing and where everybody's at. I try to give everybody a pre-scan of the play so they know what could happen and what will happen.
"As a senior, I'm supposed to be a leader. Look at the ages, and the youth of our defensive line. I mean, I know I had to step up my game in a leadership role even more, but these younger guys are old guys now."
Gill said that having a veteran leader like Neely makes work easier for the Spartan coaching staff.
"He tells [the younger players] a little bit about how to do things, when not to do things, and kind of gives a kid a chance to excel in some things that we've been really working on," Gill said. "I think because he's been in our system for a long time, he can kind of grab those guys and tell them a little bit about what's expected, kind of war off all the eagles before they do something bad. I think he's a great guy for that, and I think that's really helped a lot of our young guys. A lot of young guys go to him for advice like that."
Neely described his relationship with the other defensive linemen as "brotherly love", saying that while they push each other to be better on the field, they also push each other in a different area of life.
"If we're not watching film, we're watching somebody else play, or we're playing video games," Neely said. "I'm pretty much the best Mario Kart player on the team, so everybody tries to beat me in that but they can't."
Besides competing with his teammates in Mario Kart, Neely also likes to put his video-game skills to the test in football games. But according to the defensive end, he knows his way around calling offensive plays, as well as knowing how to shut down his opponents on defense. Neely said that after he is done playing football, he hopes to move to the coaching side of the game, and not necessarily just to be a defensive coordinator.
"Probably a defensive coordinator, but maybe an offensive coordinator too," Neely said. "I'm an offensive genius. In the Madden video game, my offensive skill is up there too. The plays I like to draw up in my notebook sometimes, it just seems like it would work against any defense, so that's why I say I'm an offensive genius."
However, fans should not expect to see Neely's creativity showcased in offensive coordinator Don Treadwell's playbook any time soon.
"I can't have him take my playbook," the defensive end joked. "He's going to take it and he's going to use it and get credit for my plays. You ever seen the movie The Waterboy? I don't want to end up like that."
Whether he ends up as a future offensive coordinator or nowhere near a football field, Coach Gill is confident that his star pupil will excel, no matter what the circumstance.
"He's a guy that at one point in time was undersized, and he listened to what we had to say," Gill said. "I admire the way he's really worked to get himself better, and he's just a great young man. He'll be a great leader in a company or something somewhere one day."
GETTING TO KNOW Colin Neely
FAVORITE SPORT OTHER THAN FOOTBALL: "Basketball. I just love the athleticism, and you can play every day. You can't do that with football, just put on your pads and hit somebody."
FAVORITE PRO TEAMS: Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia Phillies.
FAVORITE ATHLETE: "Kobe Bryant. He's just an amazing closer, he's clutch, just the way he plays the game, it's just amazing to see somebody at that age do it for that long and keep it up."
IF YOU COULD TRADE PLACES WITH ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD IT BE: "I don't think I would trade with anybody. I like the way my life is going. The ups and downs, the craziness...I don't think I would change my life."
GADGET YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT: "My cell phone, my Droid 2."
This feature was originally published in the Nov. 6 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.
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