HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETE OF THE WEEK
Buchholz's Neal exceeds all expectations
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 10:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 10:58 p.m.
After winning his first two matches in the Class 3A state finals last Friday, Deontrae Neal was congratulated by his coaches for locking up no lower than sixth place overall finish.
In Buchholz coach Billy Pankey's eyes, Neal's run through the heavyweight division just a week removed from winning a regional title was already a remarkable accomplishment for a wrestler with two years of experience in the sport.
“Like him, the only reason I started wrestling was to stay in shape for football,” Pankey said. “But they both work hand-in-hand. He's super hungry when it comes to football and super hungry when it comes to wrestling.”
With one match standing in his way for a chance at the state title at The Lakeland Center, Neal told his coaches he wasn't finished.
The 6-foot-1, 300-pound Neal earned a 3-2 decision over Daniel Leon of North Miami Beach in the semifinals, before ending the season as state runner-up following a narrow, 6-2 loss to Kevin Jacques, a 58-1 senior from South Broward.
In the finals, Neal was tied at 1-apiece with Jacques with 22 seconds remaining but surrendered a late takedown that pushed the match out of reach.
The loss dropped Neal to 43-5 on the season, just a year removed from missing the state championships altogether.
“He's always gotten better from the minute he started wrestling last year to obviously last night,” Pankey said. “He only has five losses. … One of them was a four-point loss to the state champion in 1A. They were all to really quality kids.”
Neal, an All-Area selection at defensive tackle for the Buchholz football team, signed with Division II Mars Hill College in North Carolina on Feb. 6 after compiling 65 tackles and 9.5 sacks in his senior season.
Though Neal has a clear future on the football field, Pankey said he's received calls from college wrestling coaches interested in Neal and wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't closed his time in the sport for good.
“One of the things that my assistant coach always says is Deontrae has this swag, something that he's never seen before where he's just never satisfied,” Pankey said. “Going from one match away (from states) to being second in the state is pretty remarkable.”
THOMAS HERLEVICH, GAINESVILLE: The senior 145-pounder capped off a 42-12 season for the Hurricanes by claiming fifth place at Saturday's Class 2A finals in Lakeland. Herlevich won his final match in a Gainesville uniform with a pin 55 seconds into the first period against Mike Martinez of Naples Lely.
JESSICA THOMAS, BUCHHOLZ: The Miami commitment poured in a combined 83 points last week in two playoff games to help the Bobcats reach the Class 7A state semifinals. A senior point guard, Thomas scored 36 points in Tuesday's 63-59 road win against Orange Park Fleming Island in the Class 7A, Region 1 semifinals. Once again on the road Saturday, she scored 47 points to lead the Bobcats past Viera, 84-79, in the Region 1 final.
ASHTON ADKINS, BRADFORD: The junior pitcher improved to 4-0 on the season last week after earning wins over Buchholz and Orange Park Oakleaf. On Monday, Adkins pitched a complete game in a 4-0 road victory against the Bobcats with 13 strikeouts and only 1 allowed hit. A day later, she tossed five innings and surrendered just 1 run in an 11-1 win over Oak Leaf.
ANDREW WASIK, ST. FRANCIS: A senior point guard, Wasik scored a game-high 23 points last Thursday to help the Wolves beat Oviedo Master's Academy, 63-38, in the Class 3A, Region 1 quarterfinals and secure their first playoff victory in school history.
JIMMIE TAYLOR III, SUWANNEE: Taylor, a senior shooting guard, scored 28 points last Thursday to lead the Bulldogs to a 77-74 win against Rutherford in the Class 5A, Region 1 quarterfinals. He also paced Suwannee with 10 rebounds and 8 assists.
ALEX PORTER, WILLISTON: The junior forward scored 20 points and hauled in 10 rebounds off the bench to lead the Red Devils to a 71-54 victory against South Sumter last Thursday in the Class 4A, Region 1 quarterfinals.
JANIAH MCKAY, GAINESVILLE: A sophomore guard, McKay had a game-high 24 points in the Hurricanes' 15-point win against Leesburg last Tuesday in the Class 6A, Region 2 semifinals.
JORDAN DAVIS, BRADFORD: The sophomore shortstop went a combined 6-for-8 at the plate last week with 2 runs, 4 RBI and 2 doubles in wins Buchholz and Oakleaf.
Athletes of the week are determined by nominations from area coaches. Coaches are asked to call in every Sunday between 4-7 p.m.