UA FOOTBALL

Arizona Football: Baby, what a wait

Daughter, practice keep Neal on toes as WR; Cats brace for ruling
2013-08-20T00:00:00Z 2013-08-23T12:53:01Z Arizona Football: Baby, what a waitDaniel Berk Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Davonte' Neal has played in a BCS National Championship game. He's a two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and won two state championships at Scottsdale Chaparral High School.

But, believe it or not, the UA slot receiver and kick returner said his greatest talent has nothing to do with football.

He saves it for his 6-month-old daughter, Bailey, who lives with him and his girlfriend at an off-campus apartment.

"When I come home, even if she was throwing a fit, it just goes away and she starts to smile," Neal said. "She knows I'm going to play with her all night. She keeps me on my toes and she keeps me smiling.

"I have the best daughter in the world, I think."

As far as football is concerned, Bailey's dad is the X-factor for this year's Arizona Wildcats. A Notre Dame transfer, Neal is still waiting to hear from the NCAA on whether he'll be able to play this season.

He is seeking a hardship appeal to play immediately after picking Arizona to be closer to his girlfriend and daughter.

It still seems unlikely he'll be cleared. However, the longer it drags out, the more hope those within the UA program have.

Coach Rich Rodriguez said the first week of fall camp that it was going to be any day before the NCAA reached a decision. He kept that tone into the second week of camp, but now sounds like a man who really has no idea.

"We're waiting every day," Rodriguez said. "It sure has been a while."

Added Neal: "The NCAA - you never know what to expect. It could be a week, a month, it could be six months. You never know."

But the slot receiver and kick returner swears the uncertainty isn't bothering him. He's preparing for the season the exact same way he would whether he knew the NCAA's answer one way or the other.

"I just have to play the waiting game and say, 'OK, I understand I have to wait and I have to put that on the back burner and put football first,' " Neal said. "I'm going to play football and then when they tell me the decision, good or bad, I'm still going to come out here and do my thing."

Even if the sophomore is ruled ineligible, don't expect to see him sulk.

"No matter what, I get to go to school and play football," Neal said. "Every day, I get to go out there and show my skills at practice. That's the main thing I'm worried about. It does go through your mind. What's going on? Are they going to let me play? At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter because I'm out there on the football field, practicing and getting to play the game I love.

"If they don't let me play, that will be 12 days I can't play football. All those other days, I'm still going to play."

If he is cleared, Neal will provide a serious boost to the receiving corps.

With Austin Hill recovering from a torn ACL, the Wildcats desperately need a threat in the slot to go with running back Ka'Deem Carey. Rodriguez has said numerous times this camp that if Neal is eligible, he will be an impact player from the opener against NAU.

Currently, Neal is running with the third group in practice because the coaching staff isn't sure of his status. If that changes and he's able to play, Neal likely will start going with the first group.

"I understand that Coach knows as much as I know and he will know as much as I know," Neal said. "As soon as he knows, he'll tell me. It's not about that right now. It's about what's doing best for this football team."

Whether Neal plays, Rodriguez is hopeful the playmaker's decision to transfer to the UA will open the floodgates for the best prep players in the state to play for the Wildcats.

Between Neal and his former high school teammate, quarterback Connor Brewer, the UA now has two of the top five in-state prospects from 2012 according to Rivals.com.

The coach would like to see the players choose the Wildcats out of high school, rather than go out of state for a year or two and return.

"If we get the best players in the state of Arizona every year, then we have a chance to compete for the Rose Bowl every year," Rodriguez said. "They haven't historically done that. And, we don't just want to sign some of them.

"We want all of them. And that's a process. We're not getting them right now, either, but I think we will.

"Guys like Connor and Davonté came back, but they should have been here in the first place."

On StarNet: Keep up with the UA football team year-round with Daniel Berk's blog at azstarnet.com/berk

Training camp: Day 17

At Kindall/Sancet Stadium

• Temperature at start: 97 degrees and mostly cloudy

• Newcomer watch: Running back Zach Green has a lot of talent in front of him and will likely redshirt this season. However, coaches have liked his aggressive and powerful style of running. Green is listed at 5-10, 220 and was a part of a couple of big collisions during Saturday night's open practice at Arizona Stadium.

• The big number: 1,900: Green rushed for 1,900 yards and 30 TDs on 210 carries as a senior at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Calif.

Key dates

• Friday: Scrimmage on campus

• Aug. 30 (Friday): Season opener at Arizona Stadium vs. NAU, 7 p.m. on Pac-12 Arizona

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