It’s not often that a skilled three-sport athlete suddenly shows up in your weight room. But that’s how Central Bulldogs coach Pete Hanson described the first encounter with senior Tavion Neal.
“He came in one day during our offseason program,” Hanson said. "Looking at him, he was an impressive-looking kid. You always wonder, 'Can you play? How much of an athlete are you?'"
Turns out, Neal could play multiple sports.
Neal’s Central athletics career started on the football field, where he led the Bulldogs in receiving with over 600 yards and six touchdowns.
Hanson said Neal’s statistical numbers could’ve been better, but he battled injuries and also filled in at quarterback for a short time.
Playing at receiver was relatively new to Neal, who said he played defense during his time in Springfield, Ill. Neal moved to Springfield, Mo. last summer to live with his mom, who has lived in this area for about five years.
With a new Central football coach in Hanson, Neal said he wasn’t too far behind his new teammates.
“We had new offensive plays and everything, so everyone else was learning, too,” Neal said.
When football season was over, Neal hit the hardwood where he worked with a relatively young varsity squad. He averaged seven points per game and led the team in rebounding.
"I wasn't scoring as much as I should," Neal said. "But I was trying to get my teammates involved, at least the younger ones like D’Angelo Bedell and Tre Robinson.”
Added Hanson: “I didn’t know (Neal) could dunk as well as he did.”
Neal’s now in track, where he might be at his best. He’s already ran 15.9 in the 110 hurdles, and triple jumped 46 feet.
Hanson said he wishes Neal had some eligibility left.
"Quite frankly, as a coach, I was wishing we had a couple more years with him," Hanson said. "But it was just nice to have him turn out to be not only the athlete he is, but the kid he is. He's a great kid, a great individual to be around."
Neal was a football, basketball and track athlete in Springfield, Ill. as well.
"I was just coming in here trying to compete," Neal said. "That's what I love to do. I love to compete. I'm a competitor."