Davonte' Neal was ready to commit to UCLA.
The Notre Dame transfer and former two-time Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year at Scottsdale's Chaparral High School was planning on pledging to the Bruins last week. There, Neal said, he would start the second chapter of his college career in California.
Then Arizona Wildcats boss Rich Rodriguez got involved, and things changed.
Rodriguez called Neal's father, Luke, and eventually convinced the two to visit Tucson. The Neals visited the Arizona campus on Thursday and spent nearly three hours with Rodriguez and his staff. He spent time in the coach's office and toured the campus.
"Things changed when I went on the visit," Davonte' Neal told the Star this morning. "I developed a great relationship with (Rodriguez) when he recruited me out of high school and I always take what he has to say under consideration.
"I just fell in love with the school when I was there."
Neal took the weekend to talk over the decision with his girlfriend and family and decided to pull the trigger Tuesday night and called Rodriguez to share the good news.
The slot receiver and punt returner chose to transfer from Notre Dame to be closer to his girlfriend and newborn daughter, Baylee.
"I thought this was the best decision for me to be close to my daughter and be there for her," Neal said. "Notre Dame was a great program, but it wasn't best for me to stay there with my daughter in Arizona."
Luke Neal said he was convinced his son was going to commit to UCLA, but was impressed when Rodriguez called him last week.
"The biggest thing that changed for Davonte' was that Coach Rodriguez called me and talked to me, which I have 100 percent respect for him doing that," Luke Neal said. "He asked about the situation and what we were thinking about doing. I said 'I think we’re looking at California schools.' That’s where Davonte' was looking. But since he called me personally, I later that day told him I would see if Davonte' would entertain staying in state.
"Based on that conversation, I told Davonte' I thought he should hear Coach Rodriguez out."
The younger Neal did just that; he gave his official commitment to the Wildcats last night.
"I like the style of offense that coach Rodriguez runs because it's a fast paced offense and he gets the ball in his players hands," Neal said. "Everybody was excited and supported my decision."
Neal said he will head to Tucson May 1 and will enroll in summer classes. He will seek a NCAA hardship waiver to play right away on the basis that he is transferring to be closer to his daughter.
If he is deemed eligible to play immediately, it will be a huge boost to the Arizona offense. As a senior at Chaparral, Neal rushed for 1,317 yards and 16 TDs and caught 62 passes for 1,113 yards and 14 more scores.
The former Chaparral star was a priority of Rodriguez’s since he took the Arizona job in November 2011. Rodriguez hired Neal’s high school coach, Charlie Ragle, and signed two of his Chaparral teammates, linebacker Cody Ippolito and defensive end Dylan Cozens, hoping Neal would follow them to Tucson.
He eventually pledged to Notre Dame over Arizona, Arkansas and North Carolina.
He played sparingly for the Fighting Irish as a freshman, catching one pass for minus-5 yards and returning 21 punts for 46 yards.
The UA had one remaining scholarship for 2013 before Neal committed.
Read more about Neal's decision and what it means for the Wildcats in Thursday's Daily Star.