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Venice has good vibrations for Jonathan McNeal

The senior has emerged as a towering figure for 3-0 Venice High and is intensely loyal to his community. The all-around player gets to test himself Friday against No.2 Westlake Village Oaks Christian.


As the youngest of nine children, Jonathan McNeal has learned right from wrong.

"I grew up around older people, so I had to mature faster," the Venice High football player says.

He's intensely loyal to the Venice community, where he has lived for nine years. He takes walks to Venice Beach and knows the people who hang out there, whether they are street performers or Muscle Beach regulars. He has been known to run from Venice Pier to Santa Monica Pier wearing a 40-pound vest.

So it makes perfect sense that McNeal, a 6-foot-2 1/2 , 215-pound senior, has emerged as a towering figure for a football team that is 3-0.

"He just does not leave the field," Coach Angelo Gasca says. "Everyone wants me to give him a rest, but he gets mad. Even when he's tired, he's still the best."

McNeal starts at middle linebacker and tight end. Last week against Santa Monica, he returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown in a 31-28 victory. He also is the protector on punts, makes tackles on kickoffs, blocks on extra points and has played tailback, fullback, receiver and quarterback.

He also makes his voice heard when teammates are in need of a lift.

"Being a leader, I like to talk," he says. "I have to inspire my team. I see them down, I have to get them back up."

He has scholarship offers from San Diego State and Idaho and gets the chance to test himself tonight against Westlake Village Oaks Christian (3-0), ranked No. 2 by The Times.

"I'm very excited," he says. "We know everything about them."

With a 3.5 grade-point average and an older brother who's a Marine, McNeal is a 17-year-old whom teammates and coaches trust and believe in.

"He can do anything you need him to do," Gasca says.

McNeal grew up "in an environment where everyone played sports," including football, basketball and baseball. One of the sports he hasn't mastered is surfing. Boogie boarding and diving into water is as close as he gets.

But living six blocks from the beach has enabled him to enjoy walks on the sand and get a feel for the community and neighborhood he's proud to call home.

"I want to represent my community and be a leader and show them anyone can make it," he says.

Those who might doubt his passion and commitment for football need to hear him talk.

"Every time I get the chance to play football, it gives me a thrill in my heart," he says. "When I'm on the field, nothing else matters."

Chancy choice

When a team schedules homecoming, it's usually a good idea to make sure the opponent isn't very good, because alumni like to celebrate victories, not defeats.

So why is North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (2-0) playing highly regarded Mission Hills Alemany (3-1) in its homecoming game Saturday night at 7:30?

The Wolverines had no choice because of scheduling conflicts with SATs and other issues.

Harvard-Westlake also believes it can be competitive with the Warriors, who are ranked No. 24 by The Times.

Harvard-Westlake will find out what kind of team it has, and it's a great opportunity for sophomore running back Jamias Jones to display his skills before a large crowd.

He's a sprinter who ran back a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in his team's opener and added a school-record 96-yard run last week while scoring four touchdowns against Rosemead.

Alemany has the best running back in the area not going to USC or UCLA, Malcolm Marable.

And anyone who gets bored watching the game can always hope for a celebrity sighting on the Harvard-Westlake side of the field.


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