Southern football product DeJuan Neal signs free agent contract with Washington Commanders – Capital Gazette

Cornerback DeJuan Neal practices with the New York Guardians of the XFL in 2020. (Courtesy Photo)
Russ Meyers didn’t know how DeJuan Neal’s football career would evolve after he left Southern High for Shepherd University.
All Meyers knew for sure was that Neal was going to get better.
“I always thought DeJuan had a chance to become a really good player just because of his work ethic,” said Meyers, who served as Southern head football coach for 21 years. “DeJuan isn’t the fastest, biggest or most athletic player I’ve ever coached, but he most certainly was the hardest working.”
On Thursday, Neal signed a free agent contract with the Washington Commanders at the team facility in Ashburn, Virginia. The 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback will report for training camp on July 27.
“I feel like I’ve elevated my game to another level and I’m excited to get into camp with the Washington Commanders and showcase my talents,” Neal said. “Hopefully, I can show the coaching staff that I belong in the NFL. I have a ton of confidence right now.”
DeJuan Neal practices with the New York Guardians of the XFL in 2020. Neal, a Southern graduate, recently signed as a free agent with the Washington Commanders. (Courtesy Photo)
Neal blossomed into a two-time All-Mountain East Conference selection at Division II Shepherd and performed well enough to catch the attention of professional scouts. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Washington franchise shortly after graduating in 2019, but that National Football League stint only lasted 10 days.
Washington released the versatile cornerback after just one exhibition game, but Neal was undeterred and came away even more determined to make the professional ranks.
Neal made the roster of the New York Guardians of the short-lived XFL in 2020 and performed well as a starting cornerback before the spring league folded. The Shady Side resident made an even stronger impression after starting all 11 games in this year for the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League.
Neal, who will turn 26 years old on Aug. 5, recorded 18 tackles and provided lockdown pass coverage for the Generals, who went 9-1 during the regular season before being upset in the first round of the playoffs. He played on punt coverage and return as well as kickoff coverage and return.
“I proved I can cover any receiver out on an island and also showed my abilities on special teams,” Neal said. “I gained a lot of valuable experience and definitely improved my overall skills.”
DeJuan Neal, shown, working out with the New York Guardians of the XFL in 2020, recently signed a free agent contract with the Washington Commanders. (Courtesy Photo)
Neal’s position coach with both the Guardians and Generals was Cris Dishman, who spent 13 seasons in the NFL and was a two-time Pro Bowler.
“Coach Dishman has taught me so much in terms of technique and I really picked his brain apart this past season,” Neal said.
Sean Stellato, Neal’s agent, heard from several NFL teams about Neal with the Commanders and Las Vegas Raiders expressing the most interest. They chose the local franchise, in part because it is so close to the player’s southern Anne Arundel County home, but more because there are opportunities in the Washington secondary.
“We like the situation with the Commanders and think it’s the best shot for DeJuan to make the 53-man roster,” Stellato said.
Washington is under a completely different regime than during Neal’s previous stint. Stellato has a relationship with general manager Jason Wright and head coach Ron Rivera and was assured by both that Neal would get a legitimate look.
“Coming out of a Division II school, you always have to prove yourself. DeJuan needed to develop a bit and has done just that, which is a testament to his work ethic,” Stellato said. ”I think DeJuan is continuing to grow and his best football is still in front of him.”
Neal is only the second player from the 2022 USFL season to sign with an NFL organization. Christian Sam, a New Orleans Breakers linebacker, signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
“DeJuan really shined in the USFL and that platform provided great exposure,” Stellato said. “I think DeJuan is going to shock a lot of people because he has great position flexibility and is a really smart player.
“He was a productive ball hawk at Shepherd and showed the same tenacity in the USFL.”
Meyers is not surprised that Neal has transformed from an unheralded recruit into an NFL prospect. He noted the two-time, first team Capital Gazette All-County selection has gained 35 pounds of muscle since leaving Southern.
Former Southern High and Shepherd University football standout DeJuan Neal, right, poses with his former high school coach Russ Meyers following a game at Shepherd. (Courtesy Photo / HANDOUT)
“DeJuan went up to Shepherd and really got after it. He was focused on what he wanted to do and just kept improving every year,” Meyers said. “The amount of improvement DeJuan made from high school to college, then from college to the professional level is just incredible.”
Meyers, who retired from coaching following the 2015 season and has since served as assistant athletic director at Southern, said Neal can frequently be spotted at Wingate Field on the grounds of his alma mater.
“I see DeJuan out here on the turf all the time when it’s 95 degrees running sprints and doing agility drills. He was doing that when he wasn’t under contract with a pro team,” Meyers said.
Copyright © 2021, Capital Gazette
Copyright © 2021, Capital Gazette

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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