It’s a sad day for the Tennessee football family. LaDarrell McNeil, who played defensive back for the Vols from 2012 to 2015, tragically passed away at age 27. The University of Tennessee confirmed his passing that morning on Twitter.
McNeil was a four-star safety across the board out of Dallas, Texas who committed to Derek Dooley. He became a starter as a true freshman and remained a full-time starter through his final three years, all under Butch Jones.
However, McNeil’s remarkable senior year is what stands out. As the 2015 season began, a neck injury called into question his football career. Three weeks later, in his comeback game against the Western Carolina Catamounts, he had an interception, which we wrote about then.
In addition to his remarkable comeback, McNeil started at safety alongside Brian Randolph the rest of the way. He finished the year with two interceptions, 31 tackles, 22 of which were solo, and two pass deflections.
That senior year comeback was one of the great standout stories from Jones’ tenure on Rocky Top. As McNeil got settled into the roster, the Vols went from 3-4 to winning their final six games to finish 9-4. The next year, without McNeil, the secondary took a dramatic turn for the worse in the second half of the season.
Simply put, McNeil was part of helping to build the Vols up into an elite program again under Jones, and while Jones couldn’t maintain it, the improvements made were in large part due to McNeil’s successes. That has to count for something. Players and coaches remembered him on Twitter Friday as the news broke.
For his career on Rocky Top, McNeil had 219 total tackles, 136 of which were solo, two and a half tackles for a loss, five interceptions, nine pass deflections, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He earned Freshman All-SEC in 2012.
One of Tennessee football’s most productive players during the 2010s, McNeil is a tragic loss for Vol Nation. He was a true team player and a great story for everybody. Vol fans will miss him and always remember him as somebody who took nothing for granted.