Sophomore spotlight: Keanu Neal

In the last edition, our sophomore spotlight shifted from offense to defense, profiling Jarrad Davis. We’ll stick to defense today, continuing to look at how Will Muschamp is replacing the middle of his defense after the NFL Draft pillaged it.

Last season, Florida counted on Cody Riggs (transferred to Notre Dame) and Jaylen Watkins (drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round) to play up top and lead the defense. This year, Florida will turn to a sophomore in Keanu Neal to pick up where players like Reggie Nelson, Major Wright, Ahmad Black and Matt Elam left off.

2013 Stats: 5 tackles (3 solo)

Keanu Neal spent most of the season on special teams but entered spring practice as the clear-cut starter at one safety spot. A hamstring injury sidelined him for the majority of towards the end of spring and was able to participate in the Orange and Blue Debut.

Neal is a physically impressive athlete and a natural safety. He plays fast, smart and physical. Even though he was relegated to special teams as a freshman, his play on the field and work ethic off the field have won over the coaching staff.

“He plays very active and is fast,” Muschamp said of Neal following the spring game. “A guy who really flashed at the scrimmage. When you talk in terms of playing at SEC speed, he was playing at SEC speed. Running to the ball, striking, playing blocks, and playing with the ball the deep part of the field a couple of times. He shows up.”

Neal was a track star in high school but is built like a linebacker. He’s set up to take over as one of the two safeties in Will Muschamp’s offense and is a player that can fill a similar role to what Elam was for the Gators defense.

With Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington all being viable options, Neal will have his hands full trying to fend them off but has the talent to do just that.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC


  1. I am thankful for the sophomore spotlight. Hopefully the highly rated safeties UF signed in 2013 can play well. I think there should be a focus on the guys from the 2012 class, who are either Juniors or redshirt sophomores. I just think that most players don’t reach their potential until their third year in a program. I also think the Gators season rests on these third year players becoming good to great. UF signed five defensive ends, with two being very highly rated, Bullard and Fowler. UF was 96th in sacks last year, that has to change dramatically. Humphries was the can’t miss tackle that was rated on of the top two or three players in America, but played so poorly last year that he was benched. There are others, like Marcus Maye who didn’t do his job against Miami and was never relied upon again. Latroy Pittman, we are again told is going to be good. For UF to be better on the field, the third year players need to start to live up to the hype when they were signed. UF was near the top of the recruiting rankings in 2012, it now needs to translate to the field.