Photo courtesy of NC State athletics
Not every 6-foot-2, 285-pound high school athlete is gifted enough to track down fly balls in the outfield.
Alim McNeill did not let that hold him back.
The current NFL draft prospect was an all-conference performer on the baseball field three times at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, including his senior season in which he batted .355. On top of that, he was an academic performer in each of his four high school years.
A Baseball Star in the Making
As a four-star football prospect and a highly-touted baseball player for the Dirtbags national showcase team, McNeill wanted to play both sports in college. During the recruiting process, he eventually decided on NC State because it fulfilled all his needs.
“I got to talk to many different college coaches, which ultimately helped me decide that I wanted to go to NC State,” McNeill explained. “I like Coach [Elliott] Avent a lot and I like Coach [Dave] Doeren a lot and I could see myself playing for both guys.”
In fact, he was far from completely sold on pursuing football when he first stepped foot on campus.
“I did see a better future in baseball before I saw it in football,” McNeill said.
Transitioning to a Football Career
After playing on the defensive line in the fall for the ‘Pack as a freshman, his perception changed. McNeill racked up 3.5 sacks and 22 total tackles en route to a 247Sports Freshman All-American honor.
As his class schedule started to become more rigorous, McNeill decided to put the bat down and focus on football.
“It was just a better future for me and it worked out in the long run,” he said.
Although his baseball days were behind him, McNeill learned valuable skills on the diamond that carried over to the football field.
“I was able to develop [hand-eye coordination] in baseball a lot better than guys who are trying to figure it out right now,” McNeill said.
He used this as an advantage, recording five pass breakups and even an interception return for touchdown over his three-year college career.
Becoming a Refined Football Player
Throughout his time at NC State, McNeill progressed into one of the top defensive tackles in the country. His sophomore season in 2019 was defined by his ability to make his way into the backfield. He ended up racking up 5.5 sacks.
In 2020, offensive lines started to give McNeill the attention he deserved. While he ultimately did not match his sack total from the previous year, he facilitated things for his teammates around him. Because McNeill drew double- and triple-teams, the Wolfpack as a whole, had their highest sack per game total since 2016, when their defensive line featured Bradley Chubb.
The overall production by McNeill this past season was not exactly lacking either. His ability to completely shut down the ground game earned him top run defense grade among all defensive players in the FBS, via Pro Football Focus. McNeill was also the only power conference defensive player to finish with an overall grade above 90. He was rewarded with multiple All-American honors, as a result.
Reflecting on His Time at NC State
When asked who the most difficult offensive lineman he was matched up against during his college career, McNeill answered without hesitation.
“Jimmy Morrissey, the center from Pitt(sburgh),” he said. “He challenged me in all areas. Pass rush, run game. I really had to work that day.”
As he leaves Raleigh, McNeill is very excited about the future of the NC State football program. This past season, NC State won eight games after being picked to finish 11th in the ACC.
“They have more than enough pieces to win an ACC championship,” he insists. “It’s just got to be done. People have to buy in.”
An NFL Draft Prospect
After the regular season, McNeill gave a farewell to Wolfpack nation, announcing his decision to enter the NFL Draft. He is currently training under some of the highest quality coaches in the sport.
“I am actually working with Aaron Donald’s strength coach in Mamba [Sports Academy in California],” McNeill said. “AD is definitely a guy I look up to.”
McNeill has the ideal mindset of a successful football player. He credits Fletcher Fox, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive tackle, as someone he looks up to.
“Just the way he strikes and shoves and plays with violence,” McNeill explains. “That is really what I model myself after.”
McNeill also strives to be a good person who will have a positive influence on others.
“I am a teammate who is committed,” he says. “I am devoted to getting those around me better [and] will always be there to lend my hands to others.”
McNeill projects as a second-day pick who can perhaps compete for playing time immediately with any given NFL organization.
“I will always just devote myself to the organization to get better,” he emphasized. “Win Super Bowls, playoff games, whatever it is.”