Onasis Neely had been waiting for this moment.
No, not really patiently. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back took out his frustrations on hapless defenders for years, but especially in 2017.
Every one of his 2,464 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns was meant to send a message: I will beat you and I will make someone take notice.
The wait was worth it. On Tuesday, Temple coach Geoff Collins told Neely in his home that he finally had that elusive FBS scholarship. The Owls, who had long recruited the stud East Pennsboro back and 2017 All-Sentinel Offensive Player of the Year, had taken notice and were impressed.
Neely accepted almost on the spot.
He just had to pick up his jaw.
“Once I heard those words from Coach Collins it was a dream come true,” Neely told The Sentinel on Thursday over Twitter. “I actually had a water bottle in my hand and once he offered me I dropped my bottle, put my hands over my face, and just smiled and I flashed back to all the hard work I put in thus far to receive a scholarship from the highest level you can play on at the collegiate level.”
Neely had picked up interest early in his high school career from Syracuse and Rutgers and had other Division I offers from FCS schools. Albany was his top choice of the bunch, but he was waiting for a scholarship offer from TU, who had withheld that for a while. The Owls only offered preferred walk-on status until Tuesday.
The wait was agonizing for Neely and his teammate, who lobbied on his behalf this season. But it might have been the best thing for him. He ran with purpose and a chip on his shoulder all year.
Now he’s excited to join the cherry and white.
“Why not Temple?” Neely said. “They have a respected degree. I can play at the highest level. It’s close to home [so] my parents can make it to every home game. I can become the best version of myself in the classroom, in the weight room and on the field. I worked so hard for this opportunity. I love the offensive scheme.”
Neely,a two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, said he has a lot of respect for Collins, a former defensive coordinator at Florida International, Mississippi State and then Florida. He left the Gators when he was named Temple’s head coach in December, 2016 and replaced Matt Rhule, who took over at Baylor.
Collins just led the Owls to a 6-6 season, their seventh bowl-eligible season in the past nine years after decades of futility. They find out their bowl game Sunday during a national broadcast on ESPN.
Temple has had recent success sending players to the NFL, including 2017 Arizona draft pick Haasan Reddick (linebacker), 2016 Steelers draft pick Tyler Matakevich (linebacker), 2011 Jets first-rounder Mohamed Wilkerson (defensive lineman), 2012 Ravens pick Bernard Pierce (running back) and Cumberland Valley grad and undrafted offensive lineman Kyle Friend, who is with the Steelers.
“I’m sure the defense will make me a better back every day,” Neely said. “Temple is on the rise. Temple is an every-year bowl eligible team. I’m ready. Seriously, I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. I just feel like I have something to prove on the field. I never want to lose that edge.”
Neely is the third Division I recruit to come out of Cumberland County this season, joining Camp Hill tight end Zack Kuntz and CV defensive back/linebacker Charlie Katshir, who will both play at Penn State next year.
On Friday, Panthers coach Todd Stuter called Neely one of the best players, if not the best, he’s ever coached. The Panthers lost in the District 3 Class 4A semifinals to eventual champ Berks Catholic, finishing 9-3 on the year.
The area’s only 2,000-yard rusher this season said he isn’t sure what he’ll major in, but is considering sports management “because I love the game of football and won’t wanna leave it so maybe become a coach or an AD or something along those lines,” he said.