T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.
A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program. As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.
Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa. According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.
Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.” Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.
“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”
According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.
Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator. PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.
Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.
Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season. He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.