Former Concordia QB Neal signs three-year contract with New Orleans Saints
FARGO—It's setting up to be quite a month for cousins Connor McGovern and Griffin Neal. McGovern, an offensive lineman from Fargo Shanley and the University of Missouri, is expected to be taken in the NFL draft in three weeks. On Friday, April 8, Neal, a former Concordia quarterback, signed a three-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.
The first one is expected. The second one and the length of the contract is blowing football fans everywhere away. Not to mention Neal himself.
"This day has obviously been a dream come true," he said. "I had a long workout today in front of the Saints staff, had a good workout and they signed me after that. It was pretty surreal. I'm just grateful they're giving me the opportunity."
The signature on the contract was the culmination of an unlikely story for the Fargo South High School graduate.
Neal didn't exactly take the conventional path for a chance to play in the NFL spending last season playing in Europe. But it worked. Perhaps the breakthrough came in mid-March when he attended Tulane University's Pro Day in New Orleans, where rain forced the Green Wave to move their event inside to the Saints indoor football facility.
The Saints happened to have a few folks on hand who were immediately impressed with Neal. Six Tulane players worked out for the scouts, but it was the big kid that nobody knew from some small school in Moorhead, Minn., that turned some heads.
"There's some fate here, too," said Concordia College head coach Terry Horan. "Right spot at the right time. He's just so dog-gone determined."
Neal played last season with the Hildesheim Invaders of the German Football League, an experience that not only kept his professional football dream alive, but allowed him to improve his trade.
The Saints took notice.
His contract is contingent on him making the team. There are no guarantees. He'll report to rookie mini camp in mid-May and he said he'll just take it from there.
"I'll do my best to stick around," Neal said. "I'm going to use this month to work really hard and learn the playbook to the best of my ability and perform well."
The key to getting the Saints' attention, Neal said, was training in Arizona over the winter with quarterback coach Rudy Carpenter. Neal also got hooked up with former Tulane receiver Xavier Rush, who got him connected to the Tulane Pro Day.
"I showed up there and nobody knew who I was," Neal said. "But the fact I was in the same facility as some key decision makers, I was in the right place at the right time and I had a great day. I was just hoping for any opportunity, now I have it and hopefully I can take advantage of it."
Neal finished his Cobber career in 2014 and is the school's all-time leader in passing yards with 5,614 and touchdown passes with 47.
"There were many times he was ready to say it was time for me to move on," Horan said of Neal's post-college experience. "He goes to Germany just thinking it will be his last hurrah, tour and play. He ended up doing well against competition that is probably in the middle of the MIAC pack with most teams. Still, he stayed fresh. He was just one of those unknowns—known in our area—and it's just so incredible for him."