Aspiring dentist Neal knows the drill

August 17, 2018

LINCOLN — Tre Neal is studying to become a dentist. Anesthesiology used to be his target profession until he learned the hours are more predictable and family-friendly working with teeth.Just don’t get him started on flossing.“People underrate flossing,” Neal said Tuesday. “They do. It’s just as important as brushing your teeth, if not more important.”Neal applied the same kind of forward thinking to his football career when he decided last month to join Nebraska as a graduate transfer from Central Florida. The safety wanted to follow the same group of coaches who transformed the Knights, even if he had to move halfway across the country. A good investment if he’s ever seen one.Now the Husker with more knowledge of the defense than anyone else — he started all 13 games at UCF last year — has risen to the top of NU’s ongoing production chart that keeps score of plays made and not made in practices by members of the secondary.Neal said he’s balancing his personal goals with the greater good of bringing the rest of the unit along. And he owns some credibility after recording 68 tackles and three interceptions last year.“You have to have a confidence about yourself,” Neal said. “I’m very confident in my game and what I bring to the table. But I know that I need those guys, and we all have to work as a unit of 11 people to be as productive as we can on defense. So I’m trying to teach them everything I know. If they ever need help with anything, I’m an open book.”That includes anything about formations, stances and what to look for in an opposing offense. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said Neal’s impact was already evident, like he knows the answer to a question before it’s asked.Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said Neal — who also considered Miami and Vanderbilt when coming out high school in Georgia — has quickly picked up on some “add-ons” to the defense since last playing in the Peach Bowl.“He’s the quarterback on defense. That’s what he was at UCF,” Fisher said. “When we asked him to go out and get the defense lined up and make all the checks, he did it and he did it with confidence. That was one of his big strengths. He’s been doing that since he’s been back.”Neal said the coaches are exactly as he remembered them in Orlando. His transition to Lincoln has been seamless in part because of the relationships he’s already built with them.But he also noticed the staff is more cohesive in red polos than it was in black and gold.“They’re actually a lot better than they were the first year at UCF,” Neal said. “They were a little bit nervous. They hadn’t worked with each other. That was the first time a lot of those guys were working with each other.“But now this is their third year working together. They know how each other act, they know their families, stuff like that. So it’s a lot more mellow. But the upbeat-ness of it and all that, it’s exactly the same.”One of the first things Neal did upon joining Nebraska was ask special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt if he could have a shot on those units. That mentality — which caught on at the start of UCF’s 2017 fall camp — helped propel the Knights to greater heights.Neal can already see the same culture beginning to take hold around North Stadium.“Once we started understanding that you need to compete to be on special teams,” Neal said, “that’s when we took the leap from 6-6 to 13-0.”

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