DALLAS (FWAA) – Central Florida's Johnell Neal
is this week's nominee for the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage
Award, to be announced at the end of the season. Neal, a senior
cornerback from Baton Rouge, La., returned to play this season,
less than four months after he was shot four times.
Last May, six days after Neal graduated with a degree in criminal
justice – becoming the first person in his family to earn a college
degree – he was ambushed outside the family's home in Baton Rouge.
Neal, his brother and a cousin had just returned from his brother's
R&B concert when they were attacked. Three people have been charged
in connection with the shooting.
The alleged shooter apparently was angry with Neal's cousin for
a long-ago incident. Neal was shot twice in the arm and twice in
"We ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time," Neal told
the Orlando Sentinel. "We didn't see it coming." Neal underwent
surgery to repair a punctured lung, but was able to start rehabilitation
within two weeks. His goal was to return in time for the start of
"All I could think about when it happened was I wanted to come
back to Orlando and be with my team," Neal told the newspaper. "I'm
better when I'm with these guys. I wanted to work hard to be back
stronger than ever for our first game."
Neal achieved that goal. He has started 41 games, including 16
straight. He has two interceptions this season to share the team
lead. In 2007, he shared the Conference USA lead in interceptions
the third straight year, the Football Writers Association of America
and the FedEx Orange Bowl will announce a weekly nominee each Wednesday
during the season. A blue-ribbon panel will determine the winner
from all of the nominees. The winner of the FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA
Courage Award will be announced in December and be presented with
The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine's senior writer
Gene Wojciechowski, also a FWAA member. A select group of writers
from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for
nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including
overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster
or living through hardship.
Previous winners of the FWAA's Courage Award are Navy's Zerbin
Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane
football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's
Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).
Celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Orange Bowl Committee
is a not-for-profit, 333-member, primarily-volunteer organization.
It is a self-sustaining, independent organization that supports
and produces activities and events that enhance the image, economy
and culture of South Florida. In addition to the 75th edition of
the Orange Bowl Festival, which features a year-round schedule of
events culminating with the FedEx Orange Bowl on January 1, the
Orange Bowl Committee will host the 2009 FedEx BCS Championship
Game on January 8. For more information on the 2008-09 Orange Bowl
Festival and its events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities,
The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit
organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,000 men and
women across North America who cover college football for a living.
The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists,
as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game.
The FWAA works to govern areas that include game day operations,
major awards, a national poll and its annual All-America team.
For more information in the FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award,
contact George Schroeder at 541-953-4080 or
2008 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
• Sept. 10: Artrell Woods, Oklahoma State
• Sept. 17: Terence Campbell, East Carolina
• Sept. 24: Johnell Neal, Central Florida
• Oct. 1: Wilson Holloway, Tulsa
• Oct. 8: Inquoris "Inky" Johnson, Tennessee
• Oct. 15: Richard Bowman, North Dakota State
• Oct. 22: Tyson Gentry, Ohio State
• Oct. 29: Chris Ogbonnaya, Texas
• Nov. 12: Robert Quinn, North Carolina
• Nov. 19: Brandon Antwine, Florida