Editor’s note: The Robesonian’s 32-member all-county football team will be announced Dec. 15.
FAIRMONT — Jarrod Neal patterns his game after Cam Newton, mimicking Superman’s confidence in the pocket, well-placed downfield heaves and leadership ability.
He even switched his jersey number in the offseason to appear more like the Carolina Panthers’ franchise player.
Now, Neal’s got a 2013 Robeson County Heisman to his credit, the second of its kind, and one that mirrors an honor Newton garnered at Auburn as college football’s most outstanding player.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized like this,” Neal said after a 51-touchdown, 4,000-yard senior season at Fairmont. “To go through all we went through last year and me being limited due to my ankle then to rebound the way team did this year (was a blessing). I owe it all to my offensive line, backs, and receivers. Without any of them, this award wouldn’t have been possible.”
Neal’s 47 touchdown passes this season with the Golden Tornadoes was the county’s second-highest total ever, four short of Blake Greene’s all-state 2012 campaign. Neal’s 311.3 passing yards per game is a new area record along with eight 300-yard games in a single season.
His dominant year through the air began with a seven-touchdown, 434-yard effort in the opener against East Bladen. Four Fairmont wideouts finished with at least 40 receptions and Neal’s 66.3 percent completion rate was a Three Rivers Conference-best.
Fairmont’s team captain overcame a season-ending ankle injury as a junior to star in his final campaign — Randy Ragland’s first season on the sideline after the Golden Tornadoes’ 2012 playoff ban forced James Atkinson’s resignation.
Ragland’s Air Raid staked its claim early as the area’s most prolific offense during a four-game win streak to start the season. During two of those victories, a running clock was used in the second half — the best defense against Neal this season.
“It’s hard to put into words how much Jarrod meant to me and this football team,” Ragland said. “Without him, we don’t run this offense and put up those numbers. It got to a point where he could finish my sentences at practice. He’s a great young man.”
Neal tossed at least two touchdown passes in every start and was the county’s most accurate passer on the move outside of the pocket.
“He can sling it with the best of them,” Ragland said. “His ball coming out is one of the best I’ve seen at this level. College coaches always talk about location when it’s coming out of a quarterback’s hand and Jarrod has a spin on it that’s difficult to match.”
Next season, the Golden Tornadoes return four offensive lineman, fullback Cedrique Baldwin and a few playmakers on defense to a squad that was a few stops away from contending for a conference title.
Ragland’s not expecting 51 total touchdowns from the quarterback position, but projected sophomore signal caller Julian Caulder should be a serviceable replacement for Neal.
“We’ll stick to what we do, but you’ll see a little bit more of the run game out of us,” Ragland said. “We’ve got some kids coming up from jayvee who could be impact players.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.