Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Former NFL football star Stephen Neal addresses Bulldogs


Nov 15, 2022

Former New England Patriot guard and world champion freestyle wrestler, Stephen Neal (far left), poses with Calexico High School student-athletes after a guest speaker event at Varner Gym, Nov. 7, in Calexico.

Former New England Patriot guard and world champion freestyle wrestler, Stephen Neal (far right), shows his Super Bowl rings to Calexico High School student-athletes during a guest speaker event at Varner Gym, Nov. 7, in Calexico.


CALEXICO — The Calexico Bulldogs hosted former NFL guard, two-time NCAA National Champion, and world champion in freestyle wrestling, Stephen Neal as a guest speaker.

Neal shared his experiences competing at California State University Bakersfield as well as the importance being a multi-sport athlete played in his football career. Neal discussed the new opportunities and advantages that arise from trying new sports, and emphasized the vital role that "attitude, effort, and preparation" play in achieving success.

“I hope the students understand that you can accomplish anything,” said Neal. “Having them find some skills outside of their main sport, and become a better, total athlete, would be a win.”

Neal is one of the few players who did not play college football before entering the NFL.

“It was cool to learn what it was like to compete at the highest level in both the NFL and wrestling,” said Calexico Bulldog junior Ivan Marquez.

As this season will be Marquez’s first year on the wrestling team, the junior took notes from Neal and is hopeful that preparation and hard work will equip him with the tools necessary to face opponents this season, he said.

“He taught us that even though your opponent may appear big and strong, you can defeat them if you work hard and prepare," Marquez said. "You can achieve whatever you set your mind to.”

First-year Boys' Wrestling Head Coach Juan Lopez developed a friendship with Neal, and believed it would motivate and inspire his student-athletes to consider the benefits of challenging themselves through sports.

“One of the goals was motivating kids to try the sport,” Lopez said. “Hopefully they will love it, but at least this way you make them aware of the sport and its benefits.”

Originally from Calexico, Lopez spent 14 years helping in the Poway high school wrestling program, where he met Neal.

After moving back to the Imperial Valley in August, Lopez said he is looking forward to creating safe, healthy environments where athletes can compete and thrive.

“Consistency," the coach said. "I want to be able to provide consistency and give them a place where they can wrestle, but also, create a space where they can grow, be challenged, and be proud of themselves.”

As a coach, player, and parent, Neal gave one piece of advice to students.

“We all have the tools to do something great,” Neal said. “Take one day at a time, and think of what you can do each day to improve.”

The Calexico Bulldogs will take the wrestling mat on Saturday, November 19, at the Brawley Union High School JV Boys; Wrestling Invite.

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