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Hickman full of big-game athletes
Friday, October 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:09 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

When Friday night rolls around and Jim McNeil sits in the locker room sliding his shoulder pads over his head, he can feel something building up.

McNeil isn’t the biggest player in that locker room. He’s surely not the most athletic. His statistics certainly aren’t worth dropping a jaw over, either.

If nothing else, McNeil has enough fire inside to make up for it. None of his shortcomings can prevent him from getting that feeling before every game.

“The rush you get when you charge the field is indescribable,” McNeil said. “It’s one of the reasons why you stay with it.”

He would be the first to admit that occasionally he has to tone it down a notch while competing. As if he got caught with his hand in a cookie jar, McNeil embarrassingly recalls a church mission trip dodge ball game this summer where his cutthroat nature instinctively took over.

“When it comes to anything competitive, I can sometimes get out of line,” McNeil said.

It’s that attitude that Hickman coach Gregg Nesbitt said McNeil has now begun to use to his advantage.

“He’s evolved into a leader on our football team,” Nesbitt said. “His junior year he lacked a little confidence and with the smallest mistake he’d beat himself up. This year he’s had some success early, and he’s relaxed.”

As a junior, McNeil bounced around positions on both sides of the ball, struggling to stick somewhere. Now, in his senior season, he has settled in at cornerback and wide receiver, platooning with fellow senior Reggie Hatton at each position.

McNeil’s newfound confidence got a jumpstart early this season when he recorded an interception in the opener against Lee’s Summit North. Since then, his solid play has continued each game with his most recent performance featuring a 23-yard touchdown last week against district opponent Fort Zumwalt West.

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined playing on the number one team in the state of Missouri,” McNeil said. “To actually be able to help out, gives you a sense of pride knowing where you came from and what you’re doing now.”

From week to week, Nesbitt said he never knows who’s going to make that big play but isn’t surprised when someone like McNeil makes one.

“It could be Jimmy, it could be Reggie or it could be Ryan (Nesbitt),” Nesbitt said. “Any game, week to week, it could be their turn, and they realize that.”

Hickman will have wait until 7 tonight to see if anyone will make that big play this week as the Kewpies take on Rock Bridge at Memorial Stadium.

With the Kewpies (6-1) looking to stay undefeated in district play, senior Ryan Nesbitt said his teammates and he are trying not to let their emotions get out of control.

“We want to take the personal battle out of the game,” Nesbitt said. “It’s not personal. It’s business.”

Coach Nesbitt said his team can’t forget how just a year ago Hickman entered this game in a similar position that the Bruins are currently in.

“On paper, we’re going to be heavily favored in most people’s eyes,” Nesbitt said. “Last year, they were heavily favored, and we won the game convincingly.”

The Kewpies defeated Rock Bridge, last year, 30-14, eliminating any post-season hopes for the Bruins.

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