SMU's Jones wishes McNeal would have stayed

SMU coach June Jones acknowledged that he was surprised when running back Shawnbrey McNeal opted to forgo his senior season for the NFL draft.

McNeal had played just one season with the Mustangs -- his best collegiate season -- after transferring from Miami to be closer to his family. McNeal provided SMU a quality running attack it hadn't had in quite some time and rushed for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns. He became the first 1,000-yard rusher that Jones has ever coached.

“He and I had talked about it before the bowl game and he had a lot of family issues so we kind of weighed all the pluses and the negatives for him,” Jones said.

McNeal initially moved home to the Dallas area to be with his mother who suffers from diabetes. His family needed financial help, so he saw the NFL as a way to get that help and SMU a catapult to that dream.

McNeal’s efforts during the 2009 season earned him a spot in the NFL Combine in late February, one of the few junior to earn that honor.

But Jones thinks McNeal probably would have been drafted in the same position and gotten his degree if he had stayed in school.

“I was disappointed that he didn’t just stay for himself because he may get drafted late, but I was trying to express to him the importance of having an SMU and still getting drafted late next year,” Jones said. “But he had some other issues, outside forces, that he just didn’t think he could stay. So, we wish him well and hopefully he’ll make it.”

Jones said McNeal leaving did not alter his recruiting strategy. The Mustangs already had received commitments from Madill, Okla., running back Darryl Fields, who rushed for 1,495 yards and 25 touchdowns on just 145 carries last season and Mt. Enterprise (Texas) running back Kevin Pope, who rushed for 1,401 yards and 17 touchdowns in eight games before tearing his ACL.

Jones said had McNeal stayed, one of the two recruits would have redshirted. But with McNeal gone, both are expected to contribute in 2010.