By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Cody Neal can still remember going to football games at Central when he was younger, dreaming of one day playing for the Falcons. Years later, Neal is living out that dream and helping the Falcons to a season unlike any other in school history.
The Falcons (10-2) will play at Essex in the third round of the playoffs Friday at 7 p.m.
Neal said he watched players such as Matt Sherfey and Sean Semones, and wanted to help the team just like they did.
"I've always seen a bunch of people strive and achieve for Central," Neal said. "And that's what my goal has been, is to try to do as much as I can for the school as possible."
Neal has done plenty for the Falcons over the last three seasons. He started on the defensive line last year and has done the same this season.
He also usually gets around 15 to 20 snaps on the offensive line per game, but he said he prefers to play on defense.
The senior has made his mark on the defensive side this year, leading the team with five sacks, and he has 61 tackles. Neal said it's been nice being able to get so many sacks this year.
"I get a real big adrenaline rush from it," Neal said. "That is one of biggest accomplishments you can get on the defensive line, is get a sack."
Out of his 61 tackles, 11 have been for a loss. Neal said as much as he loves getting a sack, he likes making the big hit even more.
Making the big hit is something he and his teammates relish doing.
"I think it gives our team a little more momentum when they see us decleat somebody," Neal said. "A couple times when we did it against George Mason, William Monroe, I saw our guys jumping up and down. The crowd gets exhilarated from it. You get a big adrenaline rush."
Central coach Mike Yew said that Neal lost some weight this year, and that has allowed him to be quicker and be able to make more tackles and more plays for the Falcons.
Having more mobility has also helped him on the offensive line as well. The offensive line has really played well the latter part of the season for the Falcons, and has been a big part of their success in the playoffs.
Central's starting running back Daniel Molina went down with a season-ending injury, and back-up Jordan Umstead hasn't missed a beat since taking over.
Umstead has run for 745 yards in the four games since the injury, and the offensive line has played even better since the injury.
"The last couple weeks we've really stepped up," Neal said. "We've been opening holes ever since Molina's been hurt. We try to help Jordan out as much as possible. We try to get him as many yards and as much glory as we can."
Neal is one of only six seniors on this year's squad, which features a large group of juniors.
Yew said that Neal, a team captain, sets a perfect example for all of the younger players.
"Cody's been a mainstay for us. He's been in the program for five years," Yew said. "Cody's a good kid, good student. He's the kind of kid, you'd like to have 10 of them on your team. He's worked hard to be where he's at."
The Falcons are excited about where they are at. Central is playing in the third round of the playoffs for the first time, and Neal said he's hopeful that the team can go even further.
"We feel honored to have all these other teams congratulate us, having everybody in the county and around town believe in us," Neal said. "It's a great feeling. Around school everybody's a lot happier since we've made it. It feels good to do something nobody's ever done here at Central before."
Neal said as a senior he knows how important every moment of every game is, and he just wants to make the most of what time he has left on the field.
"You get scared sometimes on Thursday night, like, 'Tomorrow might be my last day I ever play football for Central High School,'" Neal said. "I still have that feeling to the very last minute of the football game. I gotta try to do as much as I can, give 110 percent.
"I don't want to have that feeling after the game that I could have done a little bit better -- I could have done something a little bit more often that could have swung the game in our favor."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org