N4A Announces Student-Athletes of the Month for November 2017|
Nov. 15, 2017
CLEVELAND - As student-athlete development professionals who work with many students from all walks of life on a day-to-day basis, often times we encounter extraordinary stories of individuals overcoming extreme adversities. Although the odds may be stacked against them, these individuals have a drive deep inside them to succeed in the face of overwhelming challenges. It is working with these outstanding young people that makes the job of a student-athlete development professional so rewarding.
Growing up without a father, Matthews was destined to be the “man of the house”. Fortunately, his mother filled that void with love and guidance, which would carry him throughout his life; she was his strength. During his childhood, Matthews was dealt the loss of his brother and struggled in school as he battled with his learning disability. While few around him provided hope or support to succeed academically, he used it as motivation to persevere. Though he was striving to overcome his hardships in and out of the classroom, Matthews also had to cope with caring for his mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Despite these challenges, Matthews was accepted to the University of Rhode Island and immediately received the support of his academic advisor and learning specialist. Though his academic career was finally on track, his basketball career would take a turn for the worse when he tore his ACL, sidelining him indefinitely. He was devastated. Matthews lost the ability to lead his team and was forced into spectating from the sidelines. While nursing his injury, Matthews let poor influences back into his life and he began to struggle academically. Despite the setback, the same perseverance that afforded him the opportunity to play basketball at URI was the same that he needed to learn that life is a journey and he could overcome any obstacle with the right mindset.
The emotional and financial burden of handling a family member’s funeral arrangements is overwhelming and heart breaking for anyone involved. Carrying this burden alone, as a college student-athlete, is even more difficult. For McNeil, that unthinkable hardship was a harsh reality. He was responsible for making all decisions regarding his brother’s death and burial while balancing the responsibilities of a Division I football player. As horrific as that seems, his childhood was not much brighter. Growing up with divorced parents, McNeil alternated schools every year until he was 13. An unstable home life didn’t make succeeding in school easy. Eventually his family was evicted from their home and split to live in different parts of the country. With all of the odds stacked against him, McNeil improbably made his way to the University of Louisville to play football. As McNeil began his journey as a Cardinal, his older brother became very ill and moved to Louisville to join him. McNeil spent many sleepless nights at the hospital with his older brother as doctors attempted to treat him. He was constantly haunted with daily questions from the hospital staff regarding his brother’s inevitable death. From funeral arrangements to writing the obituary, he was the only family member willing to make any of those agonizing decisions. Being a student, Division I football player, father to his three-month-old son, role model to his younger brother and caregiver to his older brother, McNeil’s story epitomizes fortitude, strength and courage.