Ex-Hillside star Josh McNeil’s recruiting saga takes new twists

Jan. 03, 2013 @ 10:49 PM

DURHAM — Former Hillside High School football star Josh McNeil, who will be featured in today’s nationally televised (5 p.m., ESPN) Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., has backed out of a verbal college scholarship commitment for the second time in less than two years.

McNeil, a 6-foot-5, 226-pound tight end, played at Hillside as a junior in 2011, graduated after a summer school session in 2012 after running into eligibility issues with the Durham Public Schools. He moved on to Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., a prep school where he played this fall.

McNeil is rated as a national top 10 prospect at his position by both Scout.com and Rivals.com. He is rated a four-star college prospect on a five-star scale by both recruiting sites.

McNeil verbally committed to East Carolina as a junior, switched his commitment to national power Alabama in July and would now like to play at Louisiana State.

However, the NCAA is investigating McNeil’s graduation from Hillside and he and LSU are awaiting a decision on his eligibility for next season, Hillside coach Antonio King said Thursday night.

King said the questions arise from the fact that he graduated after the rest of what became his graduating class when he was reclassified from Class of 2013 to Class of 2012.At the time, King said, McNeil needed to complete two additional courses in a core curriculum of 16 total requirements of the NCAA. King said McNeil completed the courses during summer school and the NCAA is seeking more information on those courses.

King, who is in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area attending the prep all-America game and related festivities with McNeil, said in the phone interview Thursday that an NCAA ruling could come as soon as today, "or hopefully sometime next week."

A worst-case scenario could be that McNeil would be declared ineligible by the NCAA and forced to play junior college football before transferring to a four-year program, King said.

Many followers of the recruiting wars were shocked when McNeil chose Alabama over the likes of Notre Dame and Ohio State since his verbal vow followed on the heels of the commitment of the consensus national No. 1 prep tight end — 6-6, 220 O.J. Howard of Autauga, Ala., a five-star prospect — to the same Crimson Tide.

LSU already has a commitment from a four-star, top 10 national tight end prospect, 6-4, 220 Desean Smith of Lake Charles, La., and has a verbal tie to 6-4, 240 Logan Stokes, a three-star junior college transfer, as well.