Florida Gators junior safety Keanu Neal announced Wednesday that he has decided to leave school early and declare for the 2016 NFL Draft.
“I’ve decided to forgo my senior year, and enter the 2016 NFL draft,” Neal wrote on his Instagram account. “This was honestly the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but prayer and family support helped me a lot.. I would like to thank all the coaches, advisors, family members, and friends who have stuck by me and helped me grow as a man. It’s time to take the next step in my life and attain my dream..
“Gator Nation, thank you for welcoming me and making my 3 years at UF memorable. First day I stepped foot on campus, I knew I made the right decision. Nothing will ever take away the memories and bonds I have gained. I can confidently say that I’ve grown and matured a lot since my first day here, and it is due to the love and support of family, friends, and Gator Nation! I will always bleed orange and blue.. Forever a Florida Gator!”
Neal, who finished third on the team with 96 tackles (3.5 for loss) had 2.0 sacks, an interception, a pass break up, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble this season. A tremendous special team performer as a true freshman, he became known as a hard hitter and tremendous athlete. Neal started eight games at safety as a sophomore but missed contests in each of the last two seasons due to injuries.
The departure of Neal gives Florida a total of five early entrants into the NFL Draft. He is the second Gators defensive back to decide to leave early, joining junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, but may not be the last as redshirt junior DB Marcus Maye has yet to make or announce his decision.
Hargreaves made his call official on Monday after initially saying following the SEC Championship Game that he was likely leaving school early.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) January 4, 2016
Considered a strength of Florida’s defense, the secondary will see a major shift next season with at least three (senior Brian Poole) and as many as four high-snap players leaving the program. Sophomore Jalen Tabor, who actually outplayed Hargreaves in 2015, will step into the veteran’s stop as the No. 1 cornerback, while redshirt sophomore Marcell Harris is the favorite to replace Neal as a starter.