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NEILL HAPPY WITH HIS CALL.

Byline: GERRY GITTELSON

Nearly two years after making a last-minute decision not to play professional football, David Neill, a former star quarterback at Hart High and the University of Nevada, has returned to college to become a veterinarian.

Neill, who set various passing records as a four-year starter at Nevada, was projected to be a fourth-round NFL draft choice. With the 2002 draft looming, Neill had a powerful agent, not to mention all the physical tools a quarterback could want: 6-foot-4, a strong and accurate arm, and terrific natural instincts for the game.

But two days before the draft, Neill called it a day, telling his agent to put the word out he was quitting. The decision shocked just about everyone, especially Neill's family, and it took no small amount of willpower for Neill to turn down a huge signing bonus, if not millions of dollars if he hung in there for a few years.

Neill, calling in the other day, has no regrets.

``Well, I enjoyed playing football, but it was a rough four years,'' Neill said. ``I got sacked a lot, I got hit a lot, and I got a couple of concussions, which was a drag. I think I kind of lost the tactical part of the game after those two concussions.''

Nevertheless, Neill was primed and ready to be drafted before changing his mind, disappointing such clubs as the New York Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars, both of whom expressed strong interest.

``I think he probably would have made $800,000,'' said his father, John.

But sometimes, priorities are more important than money.

``Basically, I just woke up one morning and said, 'Hey, I'm burned out,' '' Neill said.

Neill recalled it being a bad omen when he completed just 1 of 9 passes for 20 yards in the annual Blue-Gray Bowl on Christmas Day, 2001, which turned out to be his final game.

``I kind of felt everyone was watching and that I embarrassed myself,'' he said.

So Neill, who always has loved animals after living with two horses and four dogs on the family ranch, took a job as a vet's assistant. He soon found his passion to help sick and injured animals surpassed his passion for football. It wasn't even even close.

``It's been a hard situation, and as his father I think it's taken me about two years since he said, 'Dad, I can't do it anymore,' '' the elder Neill said. ``But David's happy, and that's what's important.''

Meanwhile, David's younger brother, Jimmy, might return to football after graduating from Hart two years ago. A starter at safety and a backup quarterback to UCLA-bound Matt Moore during high school, Jimmy is considering playing for Cal Lutheran this fall.

--You don't see many zone defenses during boys' high school basketball games anymore. Particularly full-court zone presses, featuring a defender on the inbounds pass. That's a shame, really, because if teams have the athletes to pull it off for all 32 minutes, I think full-court pressure remains the best way to win high school games. After all, an extra four or five turnovers has got to make a huge difference in a close game, right?

--Canyon High basketball center Nate Longshore's sky hook - an unusual sight in prep circles - reminds me of the awesome splendor of prime-era Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If the 6-foot-5 Longshore can just grow an extra nine inches or so, he might really have something.

--My spies tell me Hart girls Ashlee Trebilcock and Taylor Lilley whipped male counterparts Adam Rich and Henry San in a 3-point contest Friday during a pep rally before a shocked standing-room only crowd in Hart's gym.

--The SCVAA Warriors Track & Field club has a need for speed. Youngsters looking to sign up can do so Saturday at Vincenzo's Pizza in Saugus (28048 Bouquet Canyon Road) beginning at 11:30 a.m. The cost is $85 (family discounts available), and birth certificates are required at registration. Information: (661) 296-4798.

--Here's a chance for soccer hopefuls to use their hands: The Santa Clarita United Enforcers girls' team (12-under) is looking for a goalkeeper. Information: Randy Rice at (661) 255-2247.

--Speaking of youth soccer, congrats to the Saugus Blue Crush team for winning the AYSO Region 46 10-under girls' championship. The players are: Jessica Weber, Amber Pilch, Casey Wesley, Kayla Quintanilla, Rebecca Magier, Samantha Asarch, Kelsey Kukava, Amanda Johnson, Hannah Cooke and Alexus Mair. The coach is Alex Quintanilla, and the assistant coach is Derek Mair.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:746
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