Former Alabama Football Player Kareem McNeal Chases A New Dream

Former University of Alabama football player Kareem McNeal has become an expert in overcoming adversity.

McNeal, 49, an offensive tackle who played for coach Gene Stallings at UA, faced a daunting challenge after a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down in July 1995.

The accident occurred right before McNeal's senior year at UA and the start of fall football camp. 

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McNeal was a reserve on UA's 1992 national championship team, but he had worked his way into the starting lineup and was looking forward to a banner senior season in 1995. But in an instant, McNeal's dream of finishing a successful college career and moving on to professional football ended. 

"Well, obviously, you play on that level and there's a desire to play at the next level in the NFL," said McNeal, who is now a husband, the father of four children and a full-time faculty member in UA's College of Human Environmental Sciences.

"It was devastating, hard to conceptualize what happened and what it really meant as far as football," he said. "It took a while for me to realize that I wasn't going to able to play anymore."  

McNeal said his faith in God, his mother, Barbara, and Stallings were all factors in helping him stay motivated during that difficult period.

This support system included his wife, Rene. He and Rene had been married for seven months at the time of the accident.

Rehabilitation was challenging — he spent months in the hospital and a rehab center. But McNeal was able to make a full recovery and adjust to life using a wheelchair. He finished school, graduating from UA with a bachelor of science degree in human performance in 1996 and earning a master's degree in health education in 1999.

While his football dreams ended, McNeal has fulfilled some new dreams since completing his education. 

He has credited his college coach with helping set him on a post-football career path. Stallings encouraged McNeal to work as a graduate assistant at Tuscaloosa's Rise School, which serves children with disabilities and their typically developing peers.

That led McNeal to a more than 20-year stint as a wellness instructor at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa

In the fall of 2021, McNeal returned to his alma mater and started as a teacher and adviser at UA. He is now teaching a course in stress management and plans to earn his doctorate from UA.

He and his wife have raised four children, Kevin, Harley, Tyler and Carson.

One of McNeal's passions, before the accident and after, is cooking. 

McNeal, who grew up in Tuskegee and graduated from Alabama Christian Academy in Montgomery, has been cooking since the age of 5. He said he learned his culinary skills from his grandmother, the late Irene McNeal, who was from Gadsden. He enjoys watching cooking shows and during his time at UA he became well-known on campus for the meals he prepared in his dorm room.

A few years ago, he opened a small restaurant on Alabama Highway 69 South in Tuscaloosa, Café 74 — McNeal wore the number 74 during his UA playing days. But Café 74 was unsuccessful and has since closed, McNeal said.

He still has dreams of returning to the restaurant business and serving customers his best-known dishes, such as cheesecake and fried catfish.

"I hope to one day do something again. It's a lot of work, but I love cooking and I love people enjoying what I do," McNeal said.

Football is still part of McNeal's life. His oldest son, Kevin, is a walk-on running back at Clemson University and McNeal said he would like to try his hand at coaching some day.

Source : https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/story/news/2022/01/15/former-alabama-football-player-kareem-mcneal-chases-new-dream/8856156002/

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