On a Kansas football team exhilarated by the Jayhawks’ 57-56 overtime victory at Texas, running back Devin Neal couldn’t help but feel overcharged emotionally by the result as he contemplated what happened late Saturday night.
It wasn’t his individual contributions to the victory — 169 total yards and four touchdowns, including one in OT — that had Neal in his feelings, either. The 18-year old true freshman grew up in Lawrence, and followed the Jayhawks closely long before he became one of their most important players.
“It means the world to me. I watched the ups and downs of this program since (I was) a little kid. I dreamed of this moment, playing here, coming to this crazy environment,” Neal told reporters after he helped KU win its first Big 12 road game since 2008, when Neal was just 5.
“I have nothing but respect for Texas, and, you know, to put that performance together from all aspects of the game, special teams, offense, defense, it was truly special to be a part of it,” added Neal.
As the postgame party spilled into KU’s visiting locker room and the Jayhawks got out their phones to document the monumental win, Neal said he initially went on Instagram to share the moment on social media.
But then he had another thought.
“I’ve got to call my mom,” Neal related.
When Neal got his mother, Freda McPhail, dialed up via FaceTime, she and other family members and friends were at Johnny’s Tavern.
“Just seeing how much support that we have back home, the excitement we brought to their faces it just meant the world to me,” Neal said.
The tight bond the young back has with his family, Neal said, is one of “the core reasons” he stayed in his hometown to play for KU after starring at Lawrence High.
“I had offers to Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Iowa, K-State, schools like that, but I knew where home was for me,” Neal said. “And this is the moment why I came here, because I knew we're going to turn the tide, we’re going to change this program.”
Neal said his belief in KU football was such that he didn’t need the attention-grabbing win at Texas as proof that it could change for the better. But he figured the victory, late in Lance Leipold’s first season as head coach, was a sign to many who follow college football.
After establishing new career highs with 143 rushing yards, 26 receiving yards and four TDs, Neal said it felt “crazy” to him that he was able to help the Jayhawks (2-8 overall, 1-6 Big 12) in what they consider to be an important moment for the program’s future.
“Just growing up, I never really viewed myself in this position ever,” Neal said. “I love sports, but I never knew my own potential — where I was going to be one day. And to see it all come full circle, I thank no one but God and my family. Just the amount of work that I put in to get to this point and the amount of work that we put in together from the offseason to fall camp, with all the adversity we faced, it just means the entire world. To put a performance like that, I couldn't be anything but more emotional about it.”
The Jayhawks will be right back in the Lone Star State next week for a road game at TCU (4-6, 2-5).