High School Sports

In an era of specialization in sports, this 286-pound linebacker still has baseball dreams

Sanderson's Alim McNeil (29) runs the ball through Millbrook's defenders during CAP-8 4A matchup between Sanderson and Millbrook that took place at Millbrook High School on November 4, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Sanderson defeated Millbrook 28-14.
Sanderson's Alim McNeil (29) runs the ball through Millbrook's defenders during CAP-8 4A matchup between Sanderson and Millbrook that took place at Millbrook High School on November 4, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Sanderson defeated Millbrook 28-14. newsobserver.com

Alim McNeill has a skill set that makes it hard to predict what kind of college football player he’ll be.

The Sanderson High senior four-star recruiting prospect’s projected position in college has changed drastically in the last year. Recruiting websites were first listing him as a defensive tackle – he is 6-2, 286-pounds – but added in the “athlete” position because coaches are starting to see him as a defensive end or an outside linebacker.

They omit two other positions he’d also like to consider: outfielder and first base.

While McNeill’s main recruiting interest is in football – he has more than 30 football offers – McNeill hopes to also play baseball at the next level. While that’s not unheard of for quarterbacks, whose arm strength can carry over to baseball, or speedy skill players such as Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders, it’s not as common for bulky, front-seven types.

Baseball and football programs have vastly different scholarship limits, and that’s why McNeill doesn’t have a formal scholarship offer in baseball. Baseball is limited to 11.7 for the entire team while football has 85. By rule, if a player wants to play both, his scholarship counts towards the football team’s total. A baseball scholarship offer would be moot, but McNeill says he’s talked with baseball coaches at a number of schools including Michigan, Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Florida State and all talked about him playing both sports in college.

McNeill stands to break that traditional two-sport player mold.

“It’s not a sport I’m just going to give up,” McNeill said of baseball. “I have the opportunity to play both now, so that’s pretty fun.”

 

Sanderson senior Alim McNeill is one of the nation's top football recruits, but he looks forward to playing both football and baseball in college.

Young athletes are being pressured more and more to focus on only one sport at an early age. A study by the NCAA found that 37 percent of all college baseball players are specializing before the age of 12 and the same goes for 30 percent of college football players.

McNeill may be a four-star recruit in football, but baseball is his first love.

He hit .333 for Sanderson last year with an on-base percentage of .447.

“I’ve been playing baseball longer than football. My dad put me in (the sport) when I was 5 or 6 and I’ve just been playing ever since at a high level of competition,” McNeill said. “At 9 years old we were going to Georgia for the weekend playing in the world series and stuff. ... I don’t want to give up either one. I just want to play both as long as I can. It would be a very hard choice (if I had to choose between the two), but if I had to make a choice, baseball would be my choice.”

McNeill hasn’t had college coaches asking him to be their fullback, but he’s played that role well for Sanderson. He’s run for 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

“He’s special. The thing I’m most proud of with Alim is his work ethic. He’s been unmatched this past year,” Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad said. “Just the growth that he made as a player and his commitment to playing hard. He could play the whole game.”

McNeill has been selected to play for the East in the U.S. Army All-American game – just like Orange’s Payton Wilson and Green Hope’s Jordyn Adams, both UNC recruits – and will announce his college pick at halftime of the Jan. 6 contest.

“He’s an athlete that’s a big body and he’s young – he just turned 17. He just keeps getting better,” Kolstad said. “I think that’s what’s exciting for a lot of these colleges is that they see what the future holds.”

J. Mike Blake: 919-460-2606, @JMBpreps

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