“I played football for Alabama under Coach Bear Bryant,” said Don McNeal as he addressed the students at Williams Intermediate School. “Coach Bryant always told me to ‘show your class.’”
McNeal said he asked Bryant what the coach meant by ‘show your class.’
“Coach Bryant asked me if I was doing my best both on and off the football field,” McNeal said. “He told me, ‘Wherever you go and whatever you do, show your class.’”
McNeal, who is originally from Atmore, Ala., played on the University of Alabama’s 1978 and 1979 national championship teams, serving as captain of the team in 1979.
McNeal was drafted by the Miami Dolphins as a defensive back, and played in two Super Bowls with the Dolphins. In 2008, McNeal was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham.
“Coach Don Shula is another role model of mine,” he said. “I played for him for 10 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.”
McNeal said his third role model was someone the students could relate to.
“My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Biggs, taught us poems,” he said. “Every day, she would ask me to learn a poem and I would tell her that I didn’t want to learn the poem.”
McNeal said Biggs repeated the poem daily, and by the end of the school year he knew the poem.
“When your work has just begun, never leave it until it’s done. Do your work great or small, do it well or not at all,” he said. “That has stuck with me since the third grade.”
McNeal said those three individuals made great impressions on his life.
“The other person I wanted to be like was my father,” he said. “My father loved me tremendously.”
McNeal said his mother died when he was young.
“I am one of 11 kids,” he said. “My dad raised us by himself and taught us how to make good decisions.”
McNeal asked the students what they felt was the number one drug facing schools and society. Answers included tobacco, marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and others.
“The number one drug is alcohol,” McNeal said. “A lot of kids think alcohol gets you high, but beer and wine depresses you.”
McNeal said he sees kids in detention facilities who want help getting out of the detention facility but don’t want to listen to what he has to say.
“I tell them about my first cousin,” McNeal said. “He is not in jail or on skid row, he is dead.”
McNeal said his cousin drank himself to death, dying of cirrhosis of the liver.
“At the funeral, the relatives were asking where he (my cousin) went wrong,” McNeal said.
McNeal said he has another friend who is addicted to crack.
“My friend’s wife and two kids are the ones affected by his addiction,” he said. “They suffer from it.”
McNeal said the students are young, but have choices to make.
“You can tell your parents that drugs and alcohol are bad choices,” he said.
McNeal said he made important choices at a young age.
“My mom died of a massive brain hemorrhage when I was six,” he said. “I asked my sister where my mom was, and my sister told me that mom was in a better place.”
McNeal said when he was about 11 years old, he asked his pastor the same question.
“I told my pastor that my mom wouldn’t leave me alone,” he said. “My pastor said my mom was in heaven. I asked how he knew, and my pastor told me he knew because of Jesus Christ. My pastor said, ‘Jesus is pulling for you, give your life to him.’”
McNeal said he trusted his pastor and his sister.
“I know I will be in heaven because I gave my life to Jesus,” he said.
McNeal told the students they also can make good choices.
“Center your life around good people,” he said. “And show your class.”