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The Drill: Zach Neal a key sparkplug on winning JCC football team

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JACKSON -- A dependable performer on the Jackson County Central Huskies football team this fall, Zachary Neal was also one of the team’s most identifiable players. Built compact, he is listed at 5-7 and 190 pounds.

To see him suited up on the sidelines, you’d think of him as a linebacker. And that is, of course, the defensive position he played this year as a senior.

He has a nickname. It seems to fit: “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Being named after a cartoon character who lives in the sea appears a bit bizarre, but the fact is that the “real” SpongeBob -- short, compact and wide -- bears a certain resemblance to the solidly-built Neal, without the sponginess.

Neal, who plays both football and baseball for the Huskies, turned in a very good fall season for his school, helping them to a 9-2 record. Jackson County Central, with seniors like Neal leading the way, hit the ground running in 2018 and didn’t stop until falling to top-seeded Fairmont 35-18 in the finals of the Section 3AAA tournament.

Neal, who was a running back on offense, helped solidify a JCC defense that held seven opponents to single digits. He fell in love with the game at a young age, playing tackle football since third grade, and flag football a couple of years before that.

The Globe interviewed and shot video footage of Neal recently for The Drill. You can see the video online at www.dglobe.com. Here’s a sample of the interview:

QUESTION: How did you get started in football?

ANSWER: “My dad got me really interested in football. He got me a football for Christmas one year, and every time he went out to harvest and he came back with a grain cart, we’d play catch. And I just had a blast out on the yard.”

QUESTION: The Huskies were a rather young and inexperienced team last season, but this year you really hit the ground running. What’s the biggest difference?

ANSWER: “I’m really enjoying this year because there’s less responsibility on the coaches and more responsibility on the kids. And that makes it a lot more fun to play with everyone.”

QUESTION: What would you say is your most memorable individual experience with the football team?

ANSWER: “Probably my first varsity high school game. It was against Luverne, and I was a sophomore. It was kind of a wild first half because our coach wasn’t too happy with one of our players. So I got to play a little more. And I just couldn’t believe how fun it was to play with all the older kids. It just really drew me in further.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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