The real deal

ESPN 150 tight end Josh McNeil has only been playing football for one year. That's right, one year. Yet, on Thursday the American Family Insurance Selection Tour for the 2013 Under Armour Game came by his high school to present him with his official game jersey.

McNeil, who stands at 6-foot-5, 224 pounds, was a basketball player growing up. Football never even crossed his mind. It wasn't until his junior year, when Hillside head coach Antonio King pestered him about, that he finally tried football.

"I was always messing with him about his basketball career," King said. "He used to come by my room during lunch, so he kind of put his trust in me, came out and played.

"When I first told him, he ran from it. I had actually been messing with him about it since his 10th grade year, so he's been running from it. He played AAU [basketball] on the traveling teams. Finally, he gave it a shot, and it paid dividends for him."

It looks as though McNeil, who is committed to Alabama, made the right decision. However, it wasn't always easy, especially when he first made the transition from the hardwood to the football field.

"In a simple word, it was funny," King said.

The tight end prospect excelled in 7-on-7 competitions and skeleton drills, but blocking was another story. Still, he's come a long way in just over a year's time, and the Under Armour All-America Game is a chance to prove that to the entire nation.

McNeil wants to show that he's not a basketball player anymore. He's a football player.

"I feel like I have a big chip on my shoulder to prove to a lot of people who still didn't think I deserved it," he said. "I feel like I have to prove something to the reporters and also the players that I'm the real deal.

"I just want to go in there and prove that I'm the best tight end in the nation."

There's one player who might have something to say about that when they get down to Florida, and it just so happens to be his future roommate at Alabama, ESPN 150 tight end O.J. Howard.

The two first met at the Crimson Tide's camp in June. The bond grew closer at various camps over the summer, and when McNeil committed in July, Howard was one of the first to text and congratulate him.

After the initial camp, the UA coaching staff knew they wanted the tight end duo – aptly nicknamed the 'Tide Towers' since both stand over 6-foot-5 – to head to Tropicana Field for the January contest.

"I saw O.J. when I took Josh down to camp in June, and seeing him move around and seeing those two big bodies, it could really present a problem after those guys get in and understand exactly what playing at that level will do," King said.

"They are like the same player. Josh is a little bigger than O.J., and O.J. may be a little faster than Josh, but just to have two assets like that could be really scary for anybody."

There's been no word yet on whether or not the two will be on the same team for the Under Armour game, but if so, it could be a glimpse of the future for the Tide.

"It will probably be a little preview of what they're going to see the next four years," McNeil said. "If Alabama uses us right, we will be great weapons down the field, to stretch the field. We're going to bring something to the SEC that hasn't been there."