Travon Neal says he writes everything down these days.
The junior and star football player at Frederick High School keeps two folders of notes on his phone for football matters alone. They serve as regular reminders for all of the things he has accomplished and all of the work that is left to be done.
One folder charts his on-field results, like his four-touchdown, three-interception performance in Frederick’s 63-7 rout at Wheaton last Friday, marking just the third time in the last 100 years the Cadets (2-1) have surpassed 60 points in a game. The DC Touchdown Club named Neal its High School Football Player of the Week on Wednesday for leading that effort.
While he doesn’t pay much attention to his stats over the course of a game, Neal makes sure to log them in his phone once it is over.
“I like being able to relive [those moments],” he said.
The other folder Neal keeps is for improvements, the things he needs to work on and the goals that he sets — 1,700 all-purpose yards this season, 22 all-purpose touchdowns, 40 tackles as a defensive back and no completions on his side of the defense. They are numbers he admittedly pulled out of thin air because they seemed aspirational before the season, and all figures he figures to blow right past before it is over.
Rather than reset the goals, he said, “I am just going to pass them and see where I am at.”
Through the first three weeks of this Frederick County football season, no player has been more impactful on both sides of the ball than Neal.
His 11 touchdowns have been scored in just about every conceivable way, including receiving (eight), rushing and on a punt return. In Frederick’s 35-33 loss to Middletown on Sept. 10, Neal threw a touchdown pass, taking a reverse handoff from running back Chris Metevia and then tossing a 15-yard pass to his quarterback, Brian Mbuthia, who was wide open in the end zone.
That was in addition to Neal catching 10 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in that game.
After Middletown sealed that win with a late interception, Knights defensive back Clark Cheairs was interviewed about the play.
“I was just making sure No. 5 [Neal] wasn’t catching the ball because he was torching us all night long,” Cheairs said.
Last week against Wheaton, Neal returned one of his three interceptions 85 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown was called back by what coach Kevin Pirri feels was a questionable penalty. But the turnover stood.
About the only way Neal hasn’t found the end zone is on a kickoff return. But he and Pirri know the season is still young.
“He has a natural ability with the ball, and it’s just his work ethic after that,” the coach said.
Neal has joined Pirri for weight-lifting sessions at 5 a.m. The coach said Neal is one of the first players on the practice field and one of the last ones to leave. His love of the game and his energy can be infectious.
If anything, Pirri says he occasionally has to reel Neal in. And Neal actively tries to lift the spirit of teammates who may be in the middle of a rough game, practice or day.
“He brings energy and confidence to the team,” Pirri said. “Maybe [the other players] don’t want to emulate him. But they want to compete with him, and they want to like him.”
A handful of Division I colleges Pirri declined to make public have shown an interest in the 6-foot, 165-pound Neal, and he is flattered by the attention.
“It makes me happy,” he said. “But it also shows me I have to stay focused and work harder on getting better.”
When asked what his best position is, Neal just laughs and claims he doesn’t know. He said he prefers playing offense, but also takes a lot of pride in the work he does on the defensive side of the ball.
“I watch a lot of film,” he said. “I’ll watch the same thing over and over again just to see what I can do better.”
Pirri believes Neal’s best position is cornerback, but it seems like he can be persuaded to change his answer.
Neal doesn’t come from a prodigious gene pool when it comes to sports. His parents weren’t big-time athletes. His dad played some basketball. His uncle also played and did some coaching.
But, in football, Neal has found an unbridled joy that tends to bring out the best in himself and his teammates.
When asked what brings him his greatest sense of joy, he said, “When we score and get to celebrate with each other.”
NOTES: Frederick’s victory over Wheaton was noteworthy in numerous ways last week.
Morein Ibrahim logged some snaps on the Cadets’ offensive and defensive lines, becoming one of the first — if not the first — females in Frederick County history to participate in a varsity football game.
In addition, kicker Hugo Merry converted seven extra points after scoring a goal for the Cadets’ soccer team earlier in the week. It is believed to be one of the first — if not the first — times that a player has registered a point in football and soccer in the same week.