"That definitely had a big impact on me," McNeill said. "I talked to Carlos, Ronnie Brown and "Lac" all the time and it really made a lasting impression on me when Carlos came back and won the Jim Thorpe Award. I had a lot of goals set for myself. I haven't met that plateau yet so I have to keep climbing that ladder of success."
Ever the comedian, he just chose to do make his announcement in a different way. Entering the press conference, McNeill first thanked everyone involved for making his three years at Auburn enjoyable. Then he announced his decision.
"I think I'm going to forgoe my rookie season in the NFL to be an Auburn Tiger one more year," McNeill said. "I'm having a real good time right now and we ended up on top this year. I definitely want to come back and be with my family. The guys I came in with my freshman year, we've been through a lot, and I would really feel bad leaving them right now. I feel real dedicated to the Auburn family. They've never done me wrong. I really look forward to a wonderful next season."
Every junior that has aspirations for the NFL sends in an evaluation to the league following his season to help make the decision on whether or not to enter the draft. McNeill's evaluation was for the third round. While not bad news, he said he's got bigger and better things planned and wants to come back and move up the ladder next year.
"That wasn't that bad, but it wasn't really what I wanted to hear," McNeill said. "At the same time I was expecting a low grade because from my understanding that's what you get. They don't want to take a chance on saying you'll go in the first round and you go in the third. It would create a controversy.
"I didn't expect a high report, but you hope for it," he added. "It would be wonderful for them to call and say first round. That's not how it happened, but it wasn't really that big of a decision for me on how I was going to decide. I really just used it as a scapegoat to get away and have more time with my family to think and evaluate the situation."
A dominating force up front for Coach Tommy Tuberville's 13-0 team that won the SEC Championship and defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, the 6-9, 330 McNeill earned All-SEC and All-American honors as a junior for his play. He graded out over 90 percent in every Auburn game this season and was a key figure in an Auburn offense that led the SEC in scoring in 2004.
Marcus McNeill (77) has been a starter since his freshman season.
Despite those numbers, McNeill didn't burst onto the national scene until this year because of back problems that hampered him in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. That changed when he started all 13 games and didn't miss one practice all year. He says that his back problems didn't come into play with his decision, but he's anxious to prove that it wasn't a one-time thing.
"My sophomore year was real rough for me so I know there are question marks in some people's heads," McNeill said. "Coming back this year having a strong year like I did and coming back next year and hopefully having another strong injury-free season will do wonders for my draft status."
In three seasons McNeill has started 28 games for the Tigers and returns to anchor an offensive line that should be one of the SEC's best in 2005. Also back is senior tackle Troy Reddick and junior guard Ben Grubbs. With center Jeremy Ingle and guard Danny Lindsey both graduating, the top candidates to move into the starting lineup for Coach Hugh Nall look to be Steven Ross at center and Jonathan Palmer or Jarrod Britt at guard. The wildcard is Leon Hart, who could get a look inside in addition to backing up McNeill at tackle.